District 205 gets in gear for new school year; Resident apologizes for previous public forum, not for what he said but for ‘the way he said it’

By Chris Fox

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, the Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board held a regular meeting at the District 205 Center, 162 S. York St. All seven board members attended the meeting.

The meeting’s spotlights and recognitions segment included a brief presentation from Lori Sweeney, the principal of Jefferson Elementary School. Sweeney, who recently completed her first year as the school’s principal, noted several of the traditions at Jefferson, including its Thanksgiving Feast, Giving Tree Performance and Winter Carnival.

York students invited to international conference

The spotlights and recognitions segment of the meeting noted York students P.J. Abraham and Caroline Wall, who participated in the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) International Career Development Conference in Orlando, Fla., in April. The two students competed in the Entrepreneur Team Decision Making Event at the conference. DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the world.

Hawthorne students win creative writing nat’l. contest

The board also recognized two Hawthorne Elementary School students for winning prizes in the Celebrate America Fifth Grade Creative Writing Contest. The contest asked students to submit a written piece on one of two themes—”Why I am Glad America is a Nation of Immigrants” or “What Does it Mean to be a Welcoming Nation?” Hawthorne’s Charlotte Ambrosio won second place for the Chicagoland Council, while Hawthorne’s Maddie Schleich won third place. The two students were invited to read their pieces, via Zoom, at the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s July meeting.

York FCCLA students attend nat’l. conference

The board also honored five York High School students who took part in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) National Leadership Conference, which took place in Denver, Colorado, in July. Sylvia Eastman, Emma Doughty, Madeline Saltiel, Max Rallo and Evelyn Rios represent York High School at the event. Rios was recognized at the finalist recognition session for ranking in the top 10 in Baking and Pastry Arts. Rios and Rallo both completed their American Culinary Federation (ACF) Certified Fundamentals Pastry Cook performance evaluation and will receive their certification from the ACF.

Public forum draws eight speakers

There were eight speakers during the meeting’s public-participation segment. One of the speakers, a physician and parent of four young children, expressed concern over students’ access to YouTube. She said there is a huge difference in kids’ behavior after they spend time on their school-provided iPads. She said she didn’t think it was safe for younger kids to have access to YouTube and asked the board for some help with the issue.

The final speaker during the public-participation segment—Jon Baker—spoke about his comments during the same segment of the July 25 board meeting. At that meeting, he urged the board to “make the right choice” regarding proposed disciplinary action toward a district teacher. He added that if the board made the “wrong” choice, he would “be doing a lot more than speaking at your meetings.”

Some speakers at the Aug. 8 special meeting, and at the Aug. 22 meeting, including the speaker right before Baker, criticized Baker’s July 25 remarks, describing them as a threat to the board.

Speaking at the Aug. 22 meeting, Baker said he reflected on his comments, and shortly thereafter, sent a written apology to board members. He added that while he didn’t regret what he said, he did regret the way he said it. Baker said he will speak more carefully in the future.

Board reflects on summer programs

The meeting included a presentation with an overview of 2023 summer programming and professional learning opportunities. The presentation noted that there were 3,758 overall enrollments in the district’s 2023 summer programs. That total included 1,947 enrollments in athletic camps and 574 enrollments in York Summer School.

Discussion ensues about SAT prep

The Aug. 22 meeting also featured a presentation about the district’s partnership with Kaplan to prepare students for the SAT exam. The State of Illinois requires all high school juniors in the state to take the SAT. Students who just began their junior year (Class of 2025) will take the test in April 2024. Many district families pay Kaplan at their own expense to help their student prepare for the SAT. Last year, the district partnered with Kaplan to provide the option of SAT preparation for York’s entire Class of 2024.

Last year, 214 York students participated in Kaplan’s SAT Prep course. The students who attended at least eight of the nine segments reportedly raised their test scores (from the PSAT to SAT) 28 points more than the overall class average.

The typical SAT prep courses with Kaplan cost nearly $800. The district has worked with Kaplan to provide those courses to York juniors at a rate of $300. The courses, offered from December 2023 to March 2024, include 18 hours of live instruction on test strategies and content review, one live proctored practice test, 16 hours of additional video content via the SAT Channel, eight practice tests, 1,000 test-like questions, four SAT prep books and six months of access to online resources. The district will pay Kaplan $35,000 to provide SAT Prep courses during the current 2023-24 school year.

The district would pay in full for students with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), any students coming from a low-income background and any students identified as English Learners. Any other junior or senior students could take the course for a fee of $300.

Beginning in the current 2023-24 school year, the PSAT and SAT exams will move to a digital platform. The new assessment, which will focus on the same skills, will provide students with their results in days. In past years, students wouldn’t learn their test scores for weeks after they took the test.

Supt. Campbell leads off new school year

Speaking about the recent beginning of the 2023-24 school year, District 205 Superintendent Keisha Campbell noted at the meeting that the energy is palpable within the district’s school buildings. She noted the Aug. 16 ribbon cutting at the new Field Elementary School, and she referred to numerous updates and improvements at other district schools. Campbell also mentioned that the auditorium at York has been completely gutted, and construction has begun on the school’s new auditorium, which should be ready in August 2024. (Full coverage of the ribbon-cutting event can be found in the Aug.  24 issue of the Elmhurst Independent.)

All but one certified staff positions filled

Campbell also stated that the district, which includes more than 8,500 students, began the school year with all but one of its certified staffing positions filled. She said that of non-certified staff, the district’s paraprofessional positions are about 80 percent filled, while about 94 percent of the district’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) positions are filled, and about 83 percent of the district’s food-service positions are filled.

Campbell urges study of student handbook

Campbell added that district students should become familiar with their student handbooks. She also mentioned the importance of attending school, and she spoke about the district’s focus on dealing with bullying and expectations of usage of cell phones and electronic devices.

Field School open house

There will be an open house at the new Field Elementary School from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 16.

The board will hold its next regular meeting on Sept. 19.