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updated: 2/25/2013 5:48 PM

Dist. 203 superintendent launches community outreach program

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Since taking over the reins of Naperville Unit District 203 last year, Superintendent Dan Bridges has met a lot of people and talked about a lot of education and community issues.

Now he's devised a plan to pick the best ideas he's heard and put them out to the community to see where they go.

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Bridges and his staff are about to launch a large-scale community engagement process called Future Focus 203. He calls it a volunteer-based community engagement program that will bring together members of the community to study and deliberate over issues important to planning and decision making in District 203.

"We're reaching out to the community (members) and inviting them to have conversations with us about their hopes, their aspirations and their dreams for our school district," Bridges told the Daily Herald Monday. "We hope this will be an opportunity for us to hear from our community what they value and what's important to them so we can establish some immediate goals, some short-term goals and some long-term goals for our school district."

Bridges said he also believes the timing is right to feed off the energy that filled the district during last spring's boundary process and continue to build the trust of the community.

The facilitating team's Community Co-Chairs Kathy Ruiz and Mark Trembacki ultimately will lead a team consisting of two board members, some district officials and six community members. The team will be responsible for setting the meetings, deciding strategies for topics based on group feedback and communicating with the community.

"We need to bring the community back into this and empower them to make decisions so they feel they are more a part of the district," said a Ruiz, a former teacher in the district.

Trembacki said he appreciates Bridges, as a new leader, forming this group.

"I think any time there is a change in leadership, there is a great opportunity to take a step back and understand what the community wants from its schools," said Trembacki, a parent and former Naperville Education Foundation member. "I think it's also a juncture when you look at things like state funding and core curriculum. It's an ideal time for the district to engage in a robust way with the community."

The first two meetings will include a state of the district report. They will be from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. March 12 at Grace United Methodist Church, 300 E. Gartner Road, and from 7 to 9 p.m. March 13 in the large cafeteria of Naperville Central High School, 440 W. Aurora Ave.

Additional meetings will be held in April, May, June and September. The district also has set up a Facebook page and email address to reach even more community members.

"We hope through those 10 sessions we will go through data and break things down over what we think needs to be done over the next one to three years, and four to 10 years," Bridges said. "But I don't see this being the only time we do this. I'm not sure we need 10 sessions every year but I can see, every few years, going very high level and revisiting the outcomes of this."

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