District 153’s five-year strategic plan will close with a review of major accomplishments district-wide and at Willow, Churchill and James Hart Schools.
In 2018, the Homewood school board wrote a strategic plan with with input from a group of 55 people, including staff members, interested parents and residents. At the Jan. 9 board meeting, Superintendent Scott McAlister gave a synopsis of all the district staff had accomplished in those five years.
The strategic plan focused on six areas: finances, facilities, human resources, social/emotional well-being, community/public relations and curriculum/assessment/outcomes.
“I’m excited to tell you that we’ve made good progress on the goals we set in 2018,” McAlister said. “Even though we had to deal with a pandemic, we still made good progress.”
Later this month, District 153 will begin work on a new five-year proposal.
“It will be interesting. The first step is what are our core values. What do people need, and from there set a path of what we need to do to address those core values. I’m excited about creating the next five-year plan,” McAlister told the board.
The board had hoped to mitigate the structural deficit, a decades-long problem that forced the district to borrow money to meet expenses. State law was changed giving the district a chance to ask voters to approve a November 2022 referendum to raise its foundation levels. Voters gave it a 72% approval rate.
“(The new foundation level) will not only provide us with an injection of money, but a long-term revenue stream that will finally put an end to our deficit,” McAlister said. “That’s definitely the highlight of our strategic plan.”
District 153 has upgraded its HVAC throughout the district and built two new classrooms at Churchill.
The strategic plan included a space utilization study. Mobile units at Willow and Churchill Schools are intended to be short-term fixes for intervention session needs. “The goal is to not have them on a permanent basis,” McAlister said, “and replace them with permanent spaces.”
“I truly believe when people come into our district they become our best ambassadors,” he said, noting most new staff members are coming from adjacent districts.
District 153 prides itself on having a positive culture in its schools that helps retain its teaching staff. McAlister said a district leadership team representing all schools and district office staff meets quarterly to discuss ways to improve the climate.
The district also is working to increase the number of minority staff members. In five years, that has risen from 18% to 41%. The district also is developing relationships with Governors State University and Roosevelt University education programs to encourage students to do observations and student teaching in the district. Those initiatives may encourage them to apply for positions. McAlister said the state also is offering alternative ways to meet teacher certification.
To assist students who are struggling, District 153 has two social workers and a psychologist in each school. McAlister said students “are having challenges in this area…and the pandemic played a large part in this. We feel good about where we are this year relative to last year. Our schools are calmer places then they were 12 months ago,” the superintendent said. Programs continue to stress good citizenship and core values presented in Positive Behavioral Interventions Support, a framework for helping students develop academic, social, emotional and behavioral competencies.
The district continues to find ways to engage with the community. Events are ways to encourage families new to Homewood to learn about the schools. The district has designed a welcome packet and posts informational videos to its website.
The district technology team was able to provide every student with a device to help with remote learning during the pandemic.
“Technology’s become a major part of education in the 21st century, and of course (we do) training through our teacher professional development,” McAlister said. He hopes to encourage training for parents so they can assist students.
“The more we can get them to understand that and be able to engage their kids at home, the better off for all of us,” he added.