Indian Prairie District 204 superintendent: Boundary redrawing tough but had to be done
Ending a process that's been years in the making due to shifting demographics, the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board this week approved a major redrawing of enrollment boundaries that will take effect in the 2022-23 school year.
In the wake of the unanimous vote, District 204 Superintendent Adrian Talley answered a series of questions about a journey that included eight meetings of a boundary committee, three community forums and feedback from hundreds of affected residents.
District 204, the state's fourth-largest school district, serves 26,000 students in 33 schools in Aurora, Bolingbrook, Naperville and Plainfield.
Q: Why was boundary redrawing necessary now?
A: The boundary review had been on the docket for District 204 for several years. It needed to be done a few years ago, but it was not. If we wanted to ever address class size issues in our schools, we knew we would first need to address our boundaries and resolve some overcrowded schools. Now that we have resolved the boundary issues, we can start looking at class size issues so that we are more in line with other school districts around us.
Q: Do you have any regrets about how the process transpired?
A: "Regrets" is a strong word. I would say that we can always improve the process. We should also reflect on what was done and how it was done so that we become better about the process. Though we tried to have representation from all schools and did at the beginning of the process, I wish the representation had stayed consistent throughout all of the meetings.
Q: You were hired in January 2020 and officially started in July 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. Was there any hesitancy about taking on such a huge project so early in your tenure while surrounded by COVID-19 uncertainty?
A: Well, we waited a year to start the boundary process. No superintendent enjoys doing boundaries; however, I knew that the work needed to happen. As I stated earlier, we had to do boundaries first before we could do anything about class sizes. Though we have addressed class size issues in grades K-2, we cannot stop there.
Q: How much stress did the boundary process add to the job of being superintendent?
A: There is always stress to this job. If not boundaries, then it is COVID-19. If not COVID-19, it is something else. Managing stress is the most important part of the job. Yes, I am happy the study is done, but throughout the process, I kept in mind that the process would eventually end. That is how you manage the stress.
Q: How difficult was it to balance the concerns of hundreds of vocal residents with the district's overall needs?
A: As with everything related to being a superintendent, you will always hear differing opinions. The board of education created the criteria for the boundary work. We were able to keep that as our focus even when hearing from others. There is no way that everyone will be pleased with the results. I knew that going into the process. We just had to keep going back to the criteria that the board created when making our decisions.
Q: What's the biggest challenge you anticipate with implementation of the boundary plan?
A: I think it will be the issue of grandfathering and transportation. I know it is very hard for parents to make their decision not knowing about transportation. I wish we could have the answer for the parents.
Q: Several residents are upset about the changes made after the final boundary committee meeting on Dec. 8 and after the Dec. 20 school board meeting. Why were changes made so late in the process?
A: With boundaries, changes are going to always be based upon a continual review of the proposal. If one looks carefully at the proposal, one will find that the administration's proposal did have major components of Concepts 1 and 3. The administration's proposal tweaked what the committee did. We would not have gotten to the proposal were it not for the hard work of the committee members.
Q; How can the district ease the difficulties for families facing significant changes?
A: Change is always difficult. One way to support the change process is the grandfathering. Another is by having the schools provide opportunities for families to come to the schools. School administrators are already planning for when they will provide those opportunities. It is important for people to reach out to principals to learn about the new schools. All of our schools are great schools. Finally, our school staff will help our children transition.
Q: How soon do you think the district will have to act again with regard to boundaries?
A: I do not have a magic ball that will tell me that answer; however, I do not see a need for any major review for several years. We have tried to anticipate the new growth in the area. We think we have done a very good job ensuring we have space in schools that will allow for that new growth. The proof is in the pudding, as we know. So, I am hoping several years will go by without the need for a major realignment.