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updated: 1/13/2014 4:06 PM

District 200 asking residents for input on schools' future

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Residents with ideas about what the future should be like for Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200's 20 schools and more than 13,000 students will get the chance to be heard this week during the first of six community engagement sessions.

The initial session is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Monroe Middle School, 1855 Manchester Road, Wheaton. It's part of the district's community engagement process called Engage200 that's designed to collect input that could help shape the district for years to come.

Community members will have a chance to listen to a brief presentation about the state of the district by Superintendent Brian Harris before breaking into small groups to discuss and write down key issues and opportunities facing the district.

Refreshments, free child care and translation assistance will be provided.

The Engage200 facilitating team -- which features 12 community members, four district employees, two area education leaders and two students -- will review the suggestions after the session and determine the topics for the next four sessions scheduled for Feb. 19, March 26, April 16 and May 7.

A summary session will take place on June 18. All sessions are scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

"I urge and ask the community to attend and I can't say that enough. This thing is only going to be as successful as the people that show up and participate," Harris said. "Your opinion matters if you come and share it."

An estimated 75 percent of households in District 200 don't have children enrolled in public schools, but officials are urging those residents to attend, too, because their tax dollars account for the bulk of the district's revenues.

"In a true democracy you have a say for how your money is being spent," school board President Barbara Intihar said.

Students, she said, are also a vital part of the engagement process because they provide "an unfiltered perspective of what we're doing right now."

Some other key players in the Engage200 process include board members Jim Vroman and Brad Paulsen, who will work directly with the facilitating team.

Vroman said he wanted to be part of the community engagement process after voters in April rejected a proposal to fund a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

"I was surprised at how badly the referendum failed and it gave me the sense that maybe we weren't really in touch with what the community wanted," Vroman said. "There was a disconnect. I had to step back and think, how can we solve this disconnect? And it's well beyond Jefferson."

The facilitating team co-chairs -- Liz Corry, a former Wheaton City Council member, and Scott Brown, a District 200 parent and graduate -- also are leaders in the Engage200 process.

Brown said he decided to volunteer after realizing he had opinions about the district but failed to express them to officials.

"I've been a bit lazy with my own engagement within the district, in those things that matter ... and as a result my thoughts don't count," he said.

This summer, when all the community engagement sessions are complete, the facilitating team will present the board with a summary report based on information gathered at the workshops.

Residents who cannot attend the sessions will have an opportunity to watch videos of presentations made at the meetings by visiting Verbatim summaries of the suggestions that are written down during the small group gatherings at the sessions also will be available online.

While officials said they hope folks attend the sessions, residents also are welcome to send suggestions by emailing or calling (630) 682-2000. Regular updates will be posted on the Engage200 community Facebook page and on Twitter @Engage200.

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