A Message from the Board President
Dr. Robert Bruno
Final Year Reflections
The culmination of any school year is a good time for dispassionate reflection. However, after a year marked by three different school openings, a devastating public health crisis and a punishing recession, the need for calm introspection has never been more appropriate. To take a moment to look back not only helps to bring closure to difficult, confusing, and sometimes contested events, but it allows us to move forward and aspire to new possibilities. What I offer here is not an academic ledger of costs and benefits. Nor is it a data driven record of all school programs, achievements, struggles and misgivings. Instead, it is but one honest introspection of a terribly difficult year and a renewed commitment to the future.
The year featured a building out of a remote learning model, the likes of which was never previously seen or anticipated. No one argued that signing on to Google Meets was not the best way to educate. But what many teachers created was impressive and it was genuine instruction. Admittedly, students adapted to remote instruction with varying degrees of comfort. We all recognized that it was hardest for many young learners.
The obligation to construct and implement online learning was undeniable, but the decision to utilize it for all children was not universally welcomed. Nonetheless, the District was resolute in following the health science. Its commitment to staff and student safety was unconditional.
Our hybrid model put kids in school every day for core instruction. Many kids flourished. For some parents though it wasn’t enough time in school, and others preferred a different approach. But the schedule was put together with professional insight and under restrictive conditions. It was unreasonable to expect that academic growth would not be impacted by the public health crisis but, in the end, the evidence revealed that learning had happened.
Faithfully abiding by the evolving health guidance, we pivoted to a full day of classroom learning. The pivot was more like a seismic shifting of tectonic plates. Many parents applauded the change and agreed to have their children weekly tested for indicators of the COVID virus. A sizable number of parents chose the remote option, while others lamented the withdrawal of the half-day model.
Each shift was made possible by collaborative District-staff efforts. However, collaboration doesn’t always mean full agreement or equal comfort. But in our case, it did mean that people acted with the intention of putting kids first. No matter the personal lens you used to view the year, highly skilled and good people - ethically compelled to adjust to a changed learning environment - acted in ways they believed would be most responsive to student learning and wellbeing.
I am mindful however, that change understandably generates questions. In contemplating the future, it is informative to affirm the District’s many points of pride, like Dual-Language and FLES. And most of all, the teachers responsible for the District’s work who will welcome your children back to school next fall.
There was little certainty or flexibility about the paths we walked together. However, we have the capacity to learn from a difficult year. Our work continues and we are called to provide each child with a joyful learning experience. To do that we renew our commitment to academic excellence, facilities that enhance student learning, finances that support student learning, a dedicated and talented staff, an uplifting school culture, and effective community engagement and communication. Each of these areas offer opportunities for improvement.
In the fall the District will restart its efforts to construct a new long-range plan. It will make educational decisions based on the expertise of many dedicated and skilled professionals, informed by multiple stakeholders. The plan will address major initiatives, like an early learning center, full day kindergarten and becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive learning community. This is big stuff folks. D41 is a high performing district that has a record of adopting innovative programs to meet the needs of today's and tomorrow’s students. There may be reasonable differences about where we can improve, but if we anchor to the data there should be none about what we have achieved.
Education, more so than other professions, is always adapting how it prepares its practitioners and learners. The immutable constant is change. Change is how we get from here to where we want to go. We have a window to act. No one has a purchase on the truth – the one best way. But we shouldn’t waste time bound by the chains of disagreement fastened in the past. There is a Chinese Proverb that goes “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” Well, now has arrived. Let’s mobilize our shared interests, values, and energy, and build a better future for the kids in D41.
Dr. Robert Bruno
Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education