A newly constituted Joint District 65–District 202 Committee met on June 24. The committee members from School District 65 are Board President Tracy Quattrocki, Board member Katie Bailey and Superintendent Hardy Murphy. From District 202, the members are Board President Gretchen Livingston, Board member Jonathan Baum and Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

At the joint meeting of the Districts 65 and 202 School Boards held in January, the Boards asked the Committee to consider virtual consolidation and ways the two Districts could increase collaboration and articulation. 

Members of the Committee decided they will meet four times in the next year, in September, November, January and April. In addition, the School Boards will continue to hold a joint meeting in January, but they will add a second joint meeting in June.

The Committee decided – at least on a preliminary basis – that it will focus on three topics this year: 1) virtual consolidation; 2) articulation between the schools in math and language arts, and also with respect to the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program; and 3) joint goals.

Virtual Consolidation: Most of the discussion focused on how to meaningfully approach the topic of virtual consolidation, a concept that has been touted by the Classroom First Commission that was headed up by Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon. The basic idea is for school districts to find ways to consolidate or coordinate functions, positions or purchasing opportunities without going through the legal process of consolidating the districts.

A report prepared last year by students at the Kellogg School of Management listed some areas where Districts 65 and 202 might benefit from virtual consolidation. Ms. Quattrocki said Therese McGuire, the Kellogg students’ supervising professor, offered to ask new students to conduct additional research on this issue. Ms. Quattrocki said the additional research “might get us to the next step, where we know where to focus our energies. I do not see them making a recommendation.”

Both Drs. Murphy and Witherspoon expressed concern about using students to make this analysis. Dr. Witherspoon said if the Districts wanted a report that would be really helpful, they would need to hire someone with “pretty heavy credentials” who had the background to evaluate both the financial and educational issues.

Ms. Quattrocki said, “I think it’s just a question about where we are in the process. I completely agree that once we set about it seriously, we need professionals to do that. I didn’t think you were there. Perhaps that’s good news you’re ready to hire a professional. I was thinking of this next step as identifying the areas we want someone to help us explore in more depth, be it academic or operational.”

Ms. Bailey said, “The question is how do we proceed forward to find out whether virtual consolidation may be a benefit to the Districts and what it might look like. The question to me is do we ask students to look at virtual consolidation or do you ask somebody who may have experience to look at virtual consolidation and then tell us ‘here are your options for virtual consolidation, this is what it may look like, and these are the benefits and cost savings.’”

The Committee is scheduled to discuss this issue further at its September meeting. In the interim, members of the Committee will obtain recommendations of firms with expertise in this area. They also asked the Superintendents to bring back information that may assist in moving forward.

Articulation: Ms. Quattrocki suggested that articulation of the TWI program and the language arts curriculum be discussed at the November Committee meeting, and then at the Joint Board meeting in January. Math articulation is scheduled for April.

Joint Goals: Ms. Livingston said the Committee will attempt to develop joint goals that “both of our Boards can embrace. … I think the thinking is they should be student-centered kind of goals, and should relate to student achievement,” as opposed to an operational goal.

The Committee is scheduled to discuss joint goals at its November meeting, and the plan is to have the School Board discuss, on a preliminary basis, joint goals at their January meeting, and then perhaps approve joint goals at their June meeting.

Dr. Murphy said that he and Dr. Witherspoon “are working on strategies to close the achievement gap.” He said staff has been meeting to discuss this on a regular basis.

Data Sharing: Ms. Livingston brought up sharing student achievement data between the two Districts. She said she thought the Districts should share student achievement data across the K-12 spectrum. She said this was important to enable District 202 to make cohort comparisons contemplated for the analysis being conducted of the freshman humanities program.

Dr. Murphy said, “It’s a non-issue. If the data are there, we can get to it.”