Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 board members expressed immense gratitude for the community's input and participation in the district's six-month community engagement process, which concluded with a report Wednesday.
Several board members, including Brad Paulsen, said they realized the Engage200 sessions -- held monthly from January to June -- were about much more than just figuring out what direction taxpayers want the district to go in for years to come.
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"The value of this process is not this binder," he said, pointing to a packet of information summarizing the Engage200 findings and recommendations. "It's the participation of our community, the increased level of interest ... the awareness of the issues facing the district."
Officials said about 700 community members attended at least one Engage200 session. About 57 percent were parents of current students and 30 percent were parents of a future or former student.
Key findings and recommendations were summarized Wednesday by Scott Brown and Liz Corry, co-chairmen of the Engage200 citizen-led facilitating team, which featured 12 community members, four district employees, two area education leaders and two students.
A few of the many findings from the sessions included the community's surprise and concern with the district's changing demographics, a desire to stay competitive with benchmark districts and have modern classrooms and technology, and a need to do something about early childhood learning environments.
During a session about finances, Brown said, the community acknowledged that the district has very little spending to cut and noted that private funding should be explored further.
"It's a challenge," Brown said. "It will be a challenge for the board now and for some years to come."
Corry prefaced the recommendations by noting that Engage200 participants said they believe the district should celebrate its high academic achievement, quality teachers and diversity, among other items. However, she said, participants identified many obstacles that need to be addressed.
"Professional financial projections indicate that the current level of revenues will not support the implementation of many of the recommendations in this report," she said. "These recommendations acknowledge that there must be a plan to consider additional revenues to sustain and improve the district in the future."
A few of the highlighted recommendations included providing support to the staff and schools to assist with intervention and student diversity; making sure space and resources are available and appropriate for 21st-century learning; addressing early childhood education space, but as part of a comprehensive facilities master plan and not as stand-alone issue; and working on communication to build transparency, trust and confidence among constituents.
Board member Jim Vroman said he hopes to have a discussion at the next board meeting about how to implement some of the recommendations.
"It doesn't end there," he said. "I think we have an obligation to give not only the facilitating team but the entire community status reports about how we are progressing with implementing those recommendations in the report. And we have an obligation to the community to faithfully accept the recommendations, give them careful thought and consideration, as I'm sure we will, and prioritize."
Board President Barbara Intihar said that in the search for a new superintendent, districts officials are making it clear that the new leader will need to carry on the Engage200 work.
"It is my hope that we can move all this forward," she said. "Rest assured this board is committed to taking these recommendations very, very seriously. Staff is devoted to that as well."
Engage: Board takes recommendations 'very, very seriously'