This year, we gave each of our employees an umbrella prior to the first day of school. The welcome back gift symbolized the storm we have weathered together since the spring of 2020. It also represented our commitment to protecting the work and preserving the accomplishments of our students and staff.
During the past several months, there has been a fair amount of debate and discussion in our community about the following three topics:
The belief that the 2020-21 school year was a “lost year” for students.
The perspective conveyed by some that equity should not play a role in our efforts to teach core subjects (e.g., math, science, English, etc.).
The desire of stakeholders to feel heard in the conversations that are had and decisions that are made about curriculum and instruction.
On the topic of last year being a “lost year” for students, I think we can all agree that it was unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime. However, as I have said in countless messages prior to this one, our students and staff exhibited tremendous strength and perseverance through it all. They refused to give in to the fear and frustration caused by the pandemic, or give up on a year they knew could be saved. Thanks to their tireless efforts and resilience, we made significant progress on our strategic plan, equity work and Future Ready Facilities projects. We had the distinction of being the only high school district in DuPage County to offer in-person instruction from October through the end of the year. We also earned a number of impressive honors, awards and accolades that included:
- 22 AP Capstone Diploma award recipients.
- 265 AP Scholars with Distinction.
- 78 semifinalists or Commended Students in the National Merit Scholarship Program.
- Six candidates for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
- 10 conference championships, eight regional championships, 14 sectional championships and four state championships in academic or athletic competitions.
- 35 gold medals, 55 silver medals, 52 bronze medals and 50 honorable mentions for scores received on the Spanish, French, German and Latin national world language exams.
- 10 Gold Keys, 16 Silver Keys and eight Honorable Mentions in conjunction with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers’ Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
- Best in state winner in the World of 7 Billion student video contest.
- 65 All District selections for band, chorus, jazz band and orchestra from the Illinois Music Education Association.
- Six first place finishes during the competition held in conjunction with the Illinois Business Professionals of America (BPA) State Leadership Conference.
- A Gold Crown (highest recognition for overall excellence) from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.
- A First Place with Special Merit and the title of Most Outstanding High School Art Magazine for 2020 from the American Scholastic Press Association.
- Coach of the year honors (two winners at the conference level, one winner at the state level and one finalist at the national level).
- Two Outstanding Activity Sponsor awards from the Illinois Directors of Student Activities.
- A Standing Ovation Award from the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health.
- A 2021 Distinguished Service to the Field of Art Education recognition from the Illinois Art Education Association.
- The Illinois Association of School Social Workers’ 2020 School Social Worker of the Year.
- A “most influential teacher” recognition from Illinois State University.
- Invitations to speak at the Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Fall Conference and Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Conference.
Was it a difficult year? Yes. Was it a year that pushed us to our limits and tested our resolve? Absolutely. However, to characterize it as a “lost year” would be a disservice to how hard everyone worked and what we achieved.
In regards to our focus on equity, we know that we cannot create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all if our words and actions divide those we are striving to bring together. We also know that we cannot provide our students of color with access to increased opportunities without the help and support of their classmates. With that said, a number of our current students, staff and alumni have recently shared stories with us about the isolation, degradation and discrimination they have witnessed or experienced in our schools. These stories have shed light on the critical issues in our district that have served as barriers to equity for far too long. They have underscored the need for us to delve deeper into the root causes of these issues so we can better understand their impact and begin to identify solutions. They have also shown us that we will never be able to truly empower our students to reach their ideal future if we don’t recognize that doing so requires actual change. It is these stories and the countless others that remain untold that will continue to motivate us and inspire our efforts to create an environment in our schools, district and community where everyone is treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
As for the decisions we make about curriculum and instruction, we greatly value the voices and opinions of our stakeholders, and understand how important it is to keep our minds open to different perspectives and new ideas. That is an essential part of the growth mindset that we strive to instill and nurture in all of our learners. It is also one of the reasons why we are partnering with a company called Panorama to administer annual feedback surveys to our students, staff and families starting this year. Yet, when it comes to determining the courses we offer and content we teach, it is imperative that we strike a balance between being open-minded and trusting in the expert hands of our faculty. Their knowledge and experience are cornerstones of the academic excellence that is a hallmark of our district. Their leadership and innovative spirit have fostered the continuous improvement of our schools. Most importantly, their passionate commitment to education has helped our students excel both in and out of the classroom.
While it is our fervent belief that the academic future of our district must be guided by our teachers, we recognize and respect the fact that our stakeholders act as mentors, advocates and allies for the children in our community. It is because of this that we will continue exploring the different ways we can all work together to build on our success.
As we look ahead to a year that is filled with promise and potential, we must not lose sight of the challenges we still face due to COVID-19. That is why we will continue to closely monitor and strictly adhere to the guidance issued at the local, state and national level. It is why we have implemented strategies and invested in resources that are helping us slow the spread of the virus and keep everyone healthy, safe and in school. It is also why we have created a comprehensive system of support that is enabling us to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of all our students.
In closing, I want to express my appreciation to the support staff in our district. This group was in person the entire 2020-21 school year, and kept everything running smoothly and efficiently from the first day to the last. I cannot imagine what we would have done without them, and cannot thank them enough for all they do on behalf of our schools and the children we serve.