District Connection

A message from Superintendent Dr. James M. Gay

January 28, 2021
Superintendent Update January 28, 2021

Grateful. Choice. Dedication. Hope. Future. Family. D230Proud.

I shared this update at the School Board meeting last night. The video of that portion of the meeting is above and below is the text.

As we are three weeks into the second semester, I want to provide an update on a number of topics.

First and foremost, I am incredibly grateful for the support of the District 230 community over the past 10 months. It’s important to reflect on all that has been accomplished and to express the sincere gratitude I have for our students, staff, school board, families, and community. It certainly has been a wild ride, but together we are making great things happen for students. This is only possible because of the dedication and compassion of the D230 family. While we might not always agree, the common belief that our students deserve the best education possible given the circumstances is what guides us.

Since September 28, 2020, - four months to the day to be exact - we have implemented our hybrid model. That is when we implemented Stage 2. Three months ago - on October 26 - we implemented Stage 3. Families have had the choice of hybrid remote/onsite or fully remote learning. It is incredibly important that our students and families have this choice based on their comfort level and individual needs. Currently, our families are very evenly split with between 47% - 53% of families choosing remote and between 47% - 53% choosing the hybrid option.

Our students have been flexible, persistent, and compassionate as they have accessed learning in totally different ways and have supported each other and their community.

Our staff has done an amazing job adjusting the way we teach and provide supports to meet the needs of our students. Their compassion and flexibility know no bounds. The video you’ll see of the Hybrid Teaching from Sandburg tonight is a true indication of just how awesome our staff is. That extends across the district to each of our schools.

Our PPS teams have done an amazing job of outreach and connecting students and families to the resources they need. They are available for any student in need of assistance. As Say Something schools we encourage students and staff to share with our PPS teams if they know of a student who is struggling.

Our buildings and grounds crews have worked tirelessly to maintain clean and safe learning environments - with the recent snow, power issues, and weather piled on top

Our administrators have worked collaboratively and been incredibly nimble as they’ve adjusted and readjusted and readjusted again to changing State guidelines and the many curveballs that have been thrown at them.

Our school board has been supportive of us all along the way.

As I’ve talked with Superintendents across the state, I’ve seen that the issues we all face are similar and daunting. I’ve also seen that we in D230 have been able to navigate those issues with collaboration that is not always seen elsewhere.

Has it all been done perfectly here? No. But I know that we have all kept the best interest of students at the heart of what we do in order to do the best we can.

COVID-19 Dashboard shows our health and safety efforts are working. For the first semester, the average COVID-19 impact on campus was incredibly low. On an average week, there are 3,913 students and staff on campus with an average 11 reported COVID-19 positive cases and 16 close contacts.

Data from last week shows that 99.8% of students and staff onsite are not impacted by COVID-19 positive tests or close contacts. There were four positive cases and 3 close contacts reported.

This shows that our schools are safe and that our safety protocols work.

The dashboard can be found at d230.org/COVID19 which allows families access to the information they need to make informed decisions.

COVID-19 Vaccines: There is hope ahead. District 230 is committed to assisting our staff members to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and are in regular communication to coordinate with the agencies who can help us get that done.

I have been working closely with the Intermediate Service Center and Cook County Department of Public Health to assure vaccine doses are secured for our staff. We have surveyed staff and know that approximately 85% of our staff members would like to get the vaccine through the Cook County Department of Public Health. Others may prefer to secure the vaccine through other venues.

Those staff who are in category 1A Health Professionals, which includes School Nurses, School Psychologists, School Social Workers, and some other positions, have been able to schedule appointments to receive the vaccine. Several have already completed the two-dose cycle.

The remainder of our staff is in category 1B. The district has provided information regarding vaccination sites throughout the region including Health Department locations and the Tinley Park Convention Center. Several have shared with me that they are able to schedule through those sites and some have already received the first dose.

District 230 and school districts throughout our region are also working with the Intermediate Service Center and Cook County Department of Public Health to establish vaccination sites in a number of schools to meet the needs of educators across the region. Those specific locations and details are still in the works.

Transition Advisory Committee: We’re planning for fully onsite when the time is right. With the hopeful news of vaccines becoming available, we are looking toward the future when we can return onsite fully. While the timing of that is dependent on a number of factors including the State moving to Phase 5 as well as Illinois Department of Public Health and Cook County Department of Public Health guidelines, we are preparing to be ready when the time comes.

I’ve asked Dr. Nolting to chair a staff Transition Advisory Committee comprised of Teachers Association, ESP Association, Food Service Association, and Administrator representatives to brainstorm problem-solving ideas to recommend to the Oversight Committee on a wide range of topics related to our eventual return to fully onsite.

The team will conduct research, propose ideas, and serve as key communicators to their representative stakeholders.

Dr. Nolting shared with the committee that we know that the long-term effects of this pandemic will need to be considered. While the health crisis may end, the fallout and lasting effects will linger. It will be a different reality for us all. At the committee’s first meeting they brainstormed a number of potential topics to explore related to:

  • communications
  • health/safety protocols and building operations
  • technology and instruction
  • academic intervention
  • student support services
  • co-curricular and school events
  • staff support, professional development, and recognition

There is a lot to be considered and I am confident that this group of staff members will do an excellent job of identifying needs, researching solutions, and proposing recommendations for the Oversight Committee. They will meet every other week remotely to accomplish these tasks.

PSAT/NMSQT and Impact Day In true 2020-21 school year fashion, the weather gave us a run for our money on Tuesday when the PSAT/NMSQT exam was held. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t as bad as forecasted and our grounds crews were on top of the snowfall making sure staff and students could safely get on campus.

Fortunately, our schools had planned for the majority of students to be fully remote that day for Impact Day activities, so that worked in our favor.

In talking with students and staff this week, Impact Day activities have been well received and seen as impactful.

While the equity activities looked different at each school because the work has been tailored to the needs of each campus, the underlying purpose of advancing conversations regarding equity, inclusion, and belonging was successful. These conversations have been taking place in smaller settings with groups of students and staff over the past few years. Tuesday’s Impact Day gave the schools an opportunity to amplify those conversations to the broader student body.

The students I’ve talked to this week shared that they felt the conversations were respectful and well-received among their peers. They valued that their teachers and administrators put time and effort into structuring conversations that made them comfortable talking about these important topics.

Feedback from Impact Day will help guide future planning for our schools. I am incredibly proud of our administrators, teachers, staff, and students for embracing these conversations and finding ways to strengthen the relationships in our schools and communities. There is much work to be done in this area and I am hopeful that this generation of student leaders will make a difference for our schools, district, community, and world.

To sum it up, I am incredibly proud of the District 230 family. Despite all that has been thrown at us over the past 10 months, we are still providing the best possible education we can given the circumstances. We’ve been working in crisis mode for 10 months. Yet, students are still learning. Students still know we care about them.

Has this all been ideal? Absolutely not.

Have we done all we can given the circumstances we were dealt? Absolutely yes.

And that is what I am D230Proud.

Dr. James M. Gay, Superintendent

What hybrid learning looks like in D230

At the Board meeting, Sandburg High School Associate Principal Derrick Smith shared a glimpse of what hybrid learning looks like in District 230 through a video highlighting a number of teachers. The passion, dedication and grit exhibited by the teachers in this video are a true indication of the amazing staff we have across the district. I am grateful to them for sharing their stories. They truly make me D230Proud!

Take a look!

Hybrid Learning at Sandburg

*** We added the article below to the message because we know Dr. Gay is too humble to share the news himself ***

Dr. Gay named IASA 2021 Superintendent of Distinction for South Cook

The School Board recognized our very own Superintendent Dr. James Gay for earning the IASA 2021 Superintendent of Distinction Award for South Cook!

He was selected by his peers based on his leadership ability, community involvement, and professionalism. We can’t think of a more deserving leader than Dr. Gay for this award. When this news was shared with other Superintendents in Illinois, words of congratulations came flooding in from his peers. It was evident that his leadership has been felt not only here in District 230, but throughout South Cook, and across the State.

Dr. Gay will be honored in May by the Illinois Association of School Administrators along with the region award winners from throughout the state. They will provide a more detailed press release at that time, however, we thought it would be appropriate to share the good news now.

Big picture