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District 87's Food Services Staff Gets Shoutout For Their Pandemic Pivot

District 87 School Board meets Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Michele Steinbacher
Beyond the Books President Doug Ficca addresses the District 87 School Board during its meeting, Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

The District 87 school board meeting Wednesday included the story of a sometimes overlooked group of essential workers — food service staff.

These school district employees quickly adjusted plans last year to make sure the district’s children had meals, and they’ve had to stay on their feet adapting all year, said Colin Manahan, District 87 finance and facilities chief.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board adopted a new science curriculum for Bloomington Junior High School; learned about Beyond the Books’ 2021-2022 grants; and heard about the state's requirement that masks be worn in the next school year.

When the state shut down schools in March 2020, District 87 food service workers developed a plan to get meals distributed in neighborhoods and at various pick-up points. When students returned, it required creative solutions for social-distanced serving and dining areas.

“Our food service employees have been working almost every single day since the pandemic,” said district food services chief Carolina Bubulka.

They’ve distributed about 400,000 meals since pandemic measures began.

A plan that expanded eligibility to include all children under 18 will continue this summer and into next school year, she said.

The district served more than 50,000 meals during summer 2020 alone — double the number from summer 2019, she said.

Junior high gets new science curriculum

The board voted unanimously to replace the junior high’s science curriculum.

Assistant Superintendent Diane Wolf said the seven-year plan costs about $330,000, and replaces an outdated one in place more than 12 years.

The new curriculum will be more hands-on, integrates subject areas, and provides the latest in online resources in both English and Spanish.

Beyond the Books

Doug Ficca, who leads Beyond the Books, told the board more than 45 teachers in District 87 and Unit 5 are receiving grants for the upcoming school year.

The teachers will share more than $86,000 in funding, he said, adding more than two dozen applicants’ projects were turned away because an additional $35,000 would have been needed.

Even though Beyond the Books has shared more than $853,000 in grants to local public schools over the past three decades, it’s still relatively unknown, said Ficca.

“There are many of the households in District 87 who don’t know who we are,” he said.

That's why the group's 30th anniversary will focus on increasing the group's visibility and fundraising efforts, he said.

Schools to be in-person, require masks for 2021-22

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, Superintendent Barry Reilly reviewed the news that the Illinois State Board of Education has announced all schools should return to an in-person format next fall.

“That’s what we had been planning,” he said, noting the state’s rules for the 2021-2022 school year also require masking to continue, he said.

During Wednesday’s public comments five people addressed the board.

Brein Huffman, of Bloomington, said she disagrees with the mask mandate, and took her students out of district schools, and is homeschooling them because of it. Huffman said after the meeting she wanted to address the board after attending a rally in Springfield against the masks.

District 87 parent Jon Reed lamented the periods of required remote learning this year, saying it amounted to a lost year of education. Reed ran for the school board this spring. But he dropped out of the race prior to the April election amid controversy.

Other commenters included Megan Schjolberg, Becky Swan, and Joe Waldem. Each criticized the school district for different reasons, but all purported the district administrators and teachers are pushing progressive diversity agendas that reach beyond basic K-12 curriculums.

After the meeting, Reilly said some of the comments were disappointing.

District 87 is the third most diverse district in the state. With 5,500 students, he said the district’s creation of a Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force makes sense to reach a wide variety of groups.

“When we have people speak to us in a manner that just goes against what this district is all about, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “It’s not a true reflection of what our belief system is here in this community.”

In other business, the council:

  • Recognized Bloomington High School senior Myranda Wiggins for earning a silver medal in the NAACP’s competition known as ACT-SO, for the Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics. Wiggins competed in the performing arts category.
  • Approved the 2021-2022 Student-Parent Handbook.
  • Was reminded the BHS graduation is set for 3 p.m. Sunday on school grounds.

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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