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People often analogize joining a school board to climbing aboard a moving train. I have never liked that analogy, because trains move along fixed tracks. They can move forward or backward or get sidetracked. Although that has been our experience from time to time in District 65, transitions are a time to acknowledge our assets and celebrate our successes, rather than dwell on our differences.

Guest Essay By Mary Rita Luecke, Retiring District 65 Board Member

We are fortunate to live in a progressive community committed to high-quality education. Parents in this community support our schools through the time, money, activism and the support given to their children every day. Although there are times when activism makes the job of a Board member more challenging, District 65 is a better district because of it.

We are also fortunate to have dedicated and hardworking teachers and staff. More is asked of teachers now than ever before. We start with the premise “every child can learn” – itself a relatively recent and revolutionary concept. In the not too distant past, a high-quality education was the privilege of a relative few.

Today our classrooms embrace children of different ethnicities from varied socioeconomic backgrounds, some with special needs and some whose first language is not English. This is quite a melting pot. The very learning by which our schools are measured takes place in this mélange of interests, backgrounds, abilities and readiness. As a District, we must continue to do everything that we can to remember the nature of the task teachers face and to support them in their work.

There has been a lot of progress over the eight years I served on the District 65 School Board.

• Our student achievement profile has continued to improve, with increasing numbers of our students meeting and exceeding state standards and with a number of our schools receiving recognition by the state for their success.

• We have a Two-Way Immersion Plan that was initiated as a pilot, proved its worth in teaching our Spanish-speaking, limited-English-speaking students, has been expanded and has become secure.

• We have seen increased and improved professional development targeted to District and teacher needs.

• We have seen a virtual, no a literal, explosion of technology to support instruction in the classroom and administration of the District.

• We have adopted differentiation and enrichment as the model for classroom instruction. As we heard two weeks ago, this model is now being supported by professional development.

• We conducted a major study of our middle schools that has led to some changes in teaming and the instructional day.

• We have devoted a tremendous amount of energy to improving the opportunities of our children with special needs – such as increasing the amount of services provided to these students in regular education classrooms and improving the record-keeping of services provided. In our new Strategic Plan, the District has committed to ensuring inclusion of students with disabilities in all programs of the District to the maximum extent appropriate and to maximize continuity of program placement and services for special needs students and populations and other specialized programs.

• We spent a year revising our policy manual to convert to the Illinois Association of School Board model and became part of the PRESS program for regular updates of changes in the law affecting school districts.

• We have increased planning for the long-range needs of the District, starting with our long-range financial plan, followed by the life-safety study and building-needs and capacity reports. This planning has allowed the District to achieve the highest ranking in financial management awarded by the State.

• We have buildings that are no longer embarrassing to drive past, that despite their age, are well-maintained and that have signs that proudly proclaim their existence to the community.

There is no question that these accomplishments have required extraordinary effort by our administration, teachers and staff.

Returning to my opening analogy, I prefer to think of the School District as an ocean-going vessel. To be sure, there are powerful forces in play – state and national mandates and the conflicting needs and interests of the community. But as a Board member, one can influence the direction and speed with which the vessel moves. If the District and its leadership keep their sights firmly planted on providing a high-quality education to every child in our schools, I have no doubt that District 65 will continue to move toward becoming the lighthouse district we claim to be.