Superintendents discuss issues at community forum

GLEN ELLYN – Superintendents from three school districts that serve Glen Ellyn and surrounding communities discussed a wide range of topics at an educational forum sponsored by League of Women Voters Glen Ellyn.

Nearly 40 community members attended the annual Summer Kickoff Community Meeting on Aug. 22 at Reserve 22 restaurant in Glen Ellyn.

The forum aimed to encourage discourse and give the superintendents a platform on which to share their visions for the 2019-20 academic year.

“One of our missions is to educate the public and engage the public, and in addition to that, we also make the public aware of the events going on in the community,” said Kristin Malone, co-president of LWVGE. “This is extremely important. We have a new District 41 superintendent, so this was very important to integrate all the superintendents.”

The crowd was a mix of LWVGE members and nonmembers, ranging vastly in age. Superintendents Melissa Kaczkowski of Glen Ellyn District 41, David Larson of Glenbard District 87 and Emily Tammaru of Consolidated School District 89 were present.

To begin the event, each superintendent gave a brief introduction and shared their hopes for the coming year.

Kaczkowski introduced herself first as one of the newest faces in Glen Ellyn’s education administrations. She is approaching her second month as superintendent in District 41, but has worked in education for 32 years. She was superintendent at Roselle District 12 before coming to Glen Ellyn.

Kaczkowski said she hopes to spend this year “listening and learning” in the school buildings, and that she’s excited to establish a process to seat two eighth-graders on the school board as student liaisons.

Larson thanked LWVGE for backing a 2014 referendum, noting that when he saw the League was backing it, he “knew it was gonna pass.” He said that both Glenbard South and Glenbard West improved on their College Board scorecards this year and that 77% of graduating seniors got a 3 or higher on one or more AP exams.

In Tammaru’s opening remarks, she shared that District 89 will add more elective classes and shift its focus to collaboration and problem-solving. She described the forum attendees as civic minded, and noted that their children are the same, prompting the shift. The district also has added student liaisons to its school board. More than 35 incoming eighth-graders applied for the positions, she said.

After each superintendent spoke, Lucy Dallman, LWVGE’s vice president of programming, invited them to answer questions. While questions regarding school construction and board meetings were asked, several inquiries addressed hot topics plaguing both local and national school systems.

One woman told the panel that she had read about and witnessed anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders affecting elementary and middle school students. She asked the superintendents what, if anything, was being done to address the issue in Glen Ellyn schools.

Tammaru agreed that the early onset of mental health disorders is an issue of significant importance and assured attendees that the district was well aware of it. District 89 schools have full-time social workers on staff, and the district is planning mental health seminars for both students and parents. In addition, she said she foresees adding more mental health staff over the next three to five years.

In addition to high expectations and heavy homework loads, Tammaru believes cellphones are much to blame for metal health issues.

“As I’m sure you’ve read, the CEOs at Google, Apple and Microsoft say they have never given their kids devices,” Tammaru said. “There’s a huge link between [cellphone usage] and mental health.”

Kaczkowski addressed the problem next, noting that District 41 is shifting discipline to be restorative rather than retributive.

“There will be consequences for [poor behavior], but in consequences there is an opportunity to learn,” Kaczkowski said. “We also need to strengthen the conversation between school staff and parents. Behavior can make everyone feel helpless, so the adults often turn on each other because they don’t know what to do. Changing how we approach these touchier conversations can help us to open that door.”

A District 41 grandmother asked the superintendents, specifically Kaczkowski, how they will protect children in the case of an active shooter.

Kaczkowski said that DuPage County is leading the charge in developing a reliable plan for gun violence in its schools, partnering with first responders and crisis preparedness groups to ensure its success. The template they are creating will be implemented at all DuPage County schools, offering a concrete plan for action and eliminating any in-the-moment confusion, she said.

“This template for emergencies for districts that are well-resourced will become another great resource, and for not-as-well-resourced [districts], it can make the difference between no plan and a great plan,” she said. “As scary as it is – it’s a horrendous topic to think about – we are spending tremendous resources with the hope of never having to use it.”

Both Glenbard South and Glenbard West have a full-time liaison officer who works from the building, Larson said. Tammaru added that she would meet with local police and fire departments to discuss training for students and staff.

Malone said that conversations like these, which connect officials with the community and address big questions, are exactly why LWVGE puts on events such as the Annual Summer Kickoff Community Meeting.

“There’s so many issues going on with these young kids. It’s a different world,” Malone said. “So things are changing in a very rapid pace.”

Published by Suburban Life 8/29/19

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