Late last month, District 97 Supt. Carol Kelley announced the formation of a new Superintendent’s Advisory Panel designed to help the district transition eventually to in-person learning. 

Kelley made the announcement after the D97 school board decided to delay the district’s return to partial in-person, or hybrid learning, until at least after the winter break — reversing administrators’ initial decision to move to a hybrid learning model by Nov. 30. 

In a statement released Oct. 23, Kelley said that the district and school board “acknowledged the need for more time, transparency and community engagement as we work with our stakeholders to develop a safe and equitable plan for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.” 

The new advisory board includes at least 72 members, including “48 staff members and two representatives from the District 97 Board of Education. There are 30 parents total, including 10 staff members, seven medical professionals and our two board members,” Kelley said. 

Kelley said that the district will provide weekly updates about the panel’s progress on its website at: www.op97.org/updatecenter/2020-21-planning.

The panel will meet each week until Nov. 19, to develop and discuss a plan for returning to in-person learning. On Dec. 1, the panel will meet with the full D97 school board to discuss any revisions. The school board could endorse the plan at a joint meeting with the panel on Dec. 15. 

The district tapped Sylvia Flowers, of the Alma Advisory Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm, to facilitate the panel’s weekly meetings. 

“Today’s meeting will really focus on how do we get the additional parent and comment input to be reflected in our recommendations and to really think about and reflect on where are the opportunities for further clarification, refinement and improvement based on what you know so far,” Flowers said during the panel’s first meeting on Oct. 29. 

“People should feel comfortable in throwing out ideas,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that idea will make it into the final plan. We’re going to work through that process.” 

Gabby Rosenblum, a music teacher at Beye Elementary and the parent of an 8th grader in D97, said that a big challenge of developing a hybrid model is trying to strike the right balance. 

“There is going to be a huge amount of upheaval,” Rosenblum said. “Schedules are going to change, time with the students is going to change, the whole way everything is being taught is a huge change … If I’m keeping this student-centered, how is being in-person with so many restrictions a better situation, when we’re going to be changing everything for them? So, it’s really about balancing that out.” 

At one point, panel members discussed some possible challenges and solutions related to hybrid learning during breakout sessions. 

Sheila Carter, the interim principal at Lincoln Elementary, said that her four-person breakout group was particularly concerned about the possibility of students getting different teachers. 

When the district unveiled its initial hybrid learning plan in mid-October, which had a goal of returning to partial in-person learning by Nov. 30, administrators warned parents about the possibility of their students being assigned different teachers in the second trimester. 

“You’re building relationships, they’re like family now,” Carter said of students and teachers. “When you take that away and give them a different teacher, hard on the students, hard on the teachers and hard on the families.” 

Carter added that someone in her group said the hybrid model feels “cold and impersonal. You can’t console the children; you stay six feet away.” 

Another issue that arose in the group, she said, is the varying ways that transitioning to hybrid learning may affect families and students. 

“Being on site is not necessarily better for all students,” she said, adding that the transition to hybrid, which is optional for all families, will “not be easy.” 

You can watch the Oct. 29 meeting in its entirety at: youtube.com/watch?v=dPEtEH61NZk&feature=youtu.be.  

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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