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District 87 Plans 'Unique,' Expanded Summer School

Credit Michele Steinbacher / WGLT
District 87 Assistant Superintendent Diane Wolf addresses the school board at its meeting Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the Educational Services Center, 300 E. Monroe St., Bloomington.

Bloomington District 87 will direct some of its upcoming federal COVID relief funding to launch a new program melding summer school and summer camp models. 

The all-day, three-week program really expands the concept of summer school, and opens it up to any District 87 student, Assistant Superintendent Diane Wolf said during Wednesday’s school board meeting. 

“This is a very unique way of looking at a summer enrichment program,” she said, that goes way beyond the previous concept. 

Superintendent Barry Reilly called it the most comprehensive summer program ever for the district.

Also at the meeting, held in the district’s downtown administration building, the school board learned Bloomington High School plans an outdoor May graduation ceremony; heard about curriculum changes planned for the 2021-2022 school year; and OK’d a base pay of $17,500 to Ray and Associates search firm as it find's a replacement for Reilly, who retires June 30, 2022. 

Wolf said for some time she’s been toying with the question, “How can we take a traditional idea of summer school and expand it?” 

But the momentum really came with the federal funding availability, and the pandemic turning a positive corner this spring -- with fewer cases, and wider vaccine availability, she said.

After a year of pandemic, Wolf said District 87 educators are focused on transitioning students back to a new normal. “We’re preparing for our students in a lot of ways, for coming back next year, and we’re starting with our summer programming.” she said.

A variety of programs are available this summer to pre-K through 12th grades, including academic help, or specialized learning assistance. A remote option is available for Bloomington High students only. All others will be an in-person learning experience.

Bus transportation, as well as breakfast and lunch will be provided to all summer school programs, which are free to District 87 students, and begin mid-June.

For the K-5 summer program, meeting at Sheridan Elementary School, the district is collaborating with nearly a dozen community organizations to bring educational camp-style activities. The Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, the Children’s Discovery Museum, and the McLean County Museum of History, are a few partners, she said.

The Boys & Girls Club also will assist teachers with Bloomington Junior High School's summer program.  As for BHS, this summer all students can enroll in credit courses, a change from previous years that only permitted freshmen, said Wolf.

She said District 87 is partnering with Illinois State University's education program to bring in student teachers, many of whom missed in-classroom opportunities due to the pandemic.

“We’re bringing those supports into our schools which is helping our community partners, it’s helping prepare our future teachers, and it's absolutely showing our students what our community has to offer,” said Wolf. 

She said the district has budgeted the expanded community program for three years.

Wolf said the program is an all-around win -- giving ISU student teachers in-classroom experience, giving more families exposure to BN summer programs, and infusing federal COVID-relief money back into the community.

More details on the program can be found here, on the district’s website.

Graduation, fall registration, standardized testing

Reilly said an outdoor graduation ceremony is planned, at the BHS outdoor field. About 800 people should be allowed under current 20% capacity pandemic regulations.

Because it’s being used for vaccine distribution -- Grossinger Motors Arena, the usual option, isn’t available this spring. Reilly said if weather prevents an outdoor ceremony, BHS likely would host a drive-thru commencement similar to the one hosted for the Class of 2020.

As for next fall, registration runs April 5 to Aug. 6, said Wolf. Beginning next fall, a student attending a District 87 school must remain in the same school the entire year. That’s a change from current policy that allowed for in-district transfers. She said it provides continuity for the students. The logistics are possible because District 87’s smaller geographic size means it can offer busing in these situations, she said. 

Wolf also updated the board on plans for standardized testing this spring. District 87 administrators, like many educators across the country, asked that the federal testing requirements be waived this year, she said. However, that request was denied. 

Only students attending in-person will be tested. Wolf said no remote-delivery testing option is available.

Because the entire student body won’t be tested, and because of the unusual circumstances of the 2020-2021 school year, Wolf doesn’t expect the test results to be very useful. “We’ll have to really dig in there” to mine useful data, she said.

Although many colleges have waived requirements for applicants to take the ACT or SAT exams, BHS juniors and seniors will take the SAT mid-April. Board member Elizabeth Fox Anvick asked how remote high school students can take the exam, and Wolf said the district likely will host a Saturday option.

Reilly said the search firm Ray and Associates, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will begin its process by speaking with board members, and other district stakeholders, and then recruiting potential candidates. Finalists should be announced next fall, with the new superintendent named several months before Reilly’s June 2022 retirement.

In other business, the board

  • Heard a COVID update from Reilly. More COVID-relief funding is anticipated, with the federal stimulus package expected to be signed into law by President Biden on Friday. Reilly said in the previous relief package, District 87 got about $6 million, and expects to receive at least that much again.
  • Awarded a $161,000 contract to Stark Excavating to fill in Bent Elementary School’s old coal room. Colin Manahan, who oversees the district’s finance and facilities, said the project will cost just under $200,000. Initially, the district budgeted about $115,000 more for the Bent project. However, the district opted for a simpler infill project that still maintains structural integrity.  
  • Heard a detailed presentation on Bloomington Junior High School’s response to COVID, and related curriculum and schedule changes for the upcoming year. Learn more here, on the district website.
  • Learned that although in-person"open houses" for Kindergartners won't be happening,  an online version will take place April 15. Later in the summer, transition programs are planned for students beginning grade school, junior high, and high school.

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