For most of my adult life, I have tried to always focus on the many things for which I am grateful. I know what the research says about focusing on gratitude and letting it be the focus. I keep a gratitude journal on my desk so I can find the positive in any situation and record it.
Recent news regarding funding for public education has been negative, so negative that it is difficult to find points of gratitude. School leaders are troubled by the State’s lack of a fiscal year 2016 budget, ten months into the year. While K-12 education received a funding line item this year, we continue to hear we may not be as fortunate next year. We fear the State of Illinois may withhold General State Aid funds and leave us in a similar situation as the state universities. Leaders fear we may be forced to burn through reserves in order to keep doors open if the General Assembly doesn’t pass an FY17 budget. Doing so would have a ripple effect that would be difficult from which to recover. On top of all of that, we heard this week that the State overpaid Corporate Property Replacement Taxes which must now be repaid. Fortunately District 90 was only overpaid $18,000 but some districts were overpaid $200,000-$1 million.
In spite of all of this negative news, there are still many things for which to be grateful. District 90 has embraced many improvements this year. Our financial outlook has improved, as illustrated by the upgrade of our ISBE Financial Profile Score and credit rating from S&Ps.
The District 90 Board of Education successfully negotiated contracts with both of our unions under reasonable terms that are fair to all. More importantly, the process illustrated the positive working relationship between the District and the staff unions. Those relationships are critical to the organization’s success, as the staff are the most important influence on our students’ experiences at school.
The Board recently collaborated to define their goals and priorities which will be used to guide future priorities. The process culminated with a new logo and tagline for District 90. Committees of parents, staff, administrators and community members researched and collaborated to find excellent solutions to several issues, including the reduction of extra-curricular fees. The recommendation was approved by the Board as it is fiscally responsible and also fair to parents who will pay those fees. Another committee continues to study the issue of boundary lines. While their work is not complete, the progress thus far has been impressive. An additional committee of staff and parents studied the District 90 grading scale and made a strong recommendation that will more closely align our scale to that of OTHS.
Not only must we be grateful for the internal work being completed, but also for the external partnerships that improve the District and community. The District has a strong relationship with the City of O’Fallon. The City’s GIS staff went above and beyond to share information and data with the Boundaries committee. We’ve been very impressed with the skills they bring to the discussion and their willingness to help us gather important data. The City also recently shared plans to improve O’Fallon by extending sidewalks around the schools, which will provide safer routes for students who walk or ride their bikes. The O’Fallon Police Department has been a strong partner in our conversation about improvement of safety and security.
There are many other partners who also reach out to support our work. District 90 received a generous $10,000 donation from CSX for innovative programs, and a few days later received another generous donation of $6,500 from Warma Witter Kreisler for Chromebooks that will be used to engage students in 21st century learning. The O’Fallon Weekly is also an important partner as they share information about the District with the community. We are grateful for these partnerships and our partnerships with the area districts and the community. The local school districts work closely to find efficiencies and to collaborate on initiatives. Recently a large group of community members have had productive conversations about a potential county-wide revenue stream for facility improvements.
While improvements to communication, policy and fiscal accountability have taken the spotlight, every day there are also incredible things happening in classrooms. Teachers and support staff create positive learning environments where students excel. It’s no wonder the District continues to be a very desirable location for families. For example, the District 90 junior high symphonic band was recently named All State, which means they are in the top ten of all bands in the state, only two of which are outside the Chicago area.
This list takes up several pages in my gratitude journal, but it is not exhaustive. O’Fallon is a dynamic community and a wonderful home to families. In spite of the frustrations from the State, we continue to improve and grow. We do so because we recognize our third graders only have one third grade school year, for example. Therefore we promise to make it the best it can be. We owe that to our students, and are grateful to be entrusted to provide it.
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