Facility improvements over last decade made D158 an award finalist, says superintendent
By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (September 7, 2020) – Lansing Elementary and Middle School District 158 achieved a runner-up placement in District Administration‘s Districts of Distinction award program. District 158 was a finalist in the “Closing the Achievement Gap” award category, which recognizes districts that have improved outcomes for underperforming student populations.
Every year, District Administration, a national monthly publication for K-12 educators, awards school districts across the country in various categories through its Districts of Distinction award program. Districts must apply for the awards, which include categories like, “Ed Tech,” “Social Emotional Learning,” and “At Risk Populations.” District 158 was a finalist for the “Closing the Achievement Gap” award, which acknowledges districts that have improved their underperforming students’ academic success through various means.
Closing the achievement gap
District Administration’s “Closing the Achievement Gap” award focuses on improving student performance. The July/August issue of District Administration’s digital magazine announced District 158 as a runner-up for the award and gave a brief overview of what the district has done to become a runner-up.
The article says, “From 2015 to 2018, the percentage of students in grades 3 through 8 meeting or exceeding state standards increased from 15% to 24% overall. Special ed children started meeting state benchmarks in D158’s new schools.” Schilling said these percentages are based on a state standardized test that each student takes every year.
The magazine also mentioned that the budgeting numbers on a school-by-school basis within District 158 revealed an equity in spending across the schools, with about $13,000 in spending per student in 2019. Schilling explained that this equity is important because it shows the district is not monetarily favoring one of its schools over the others. “For example, you can look at Reavis Elementary and see we’re spending about $13,000 per student per year on operational expenses, and also about the same at Coolidge, and also about the same at Oak Glen. So basically, a kid that goes to any of our three elementary schools, you can look at [those numbers] and know there’s equity in the amount of money being spent for each child who’s educated across any of our elementary schools,” he said.
The full article in the District Administration e-magazine can be read online.
District 158 encompasses five schools: one primary school (Lester Crawl), three elementary schools (Oak Glen, Reavis, and Coolidge), and one middle school (Memorial). Schilling said that improvement work was completed on Memorial in 2009, Oak Glen in 2013, Reavis in 2015, and Coolidge in 2018.
“In all those situations, we basically kept what we felt was the most usable older portion of the building, and we rehabbed that—we renovated it—and we built new construction all around it,” Schilling said. He said that plans to renovate and improve Lester Crawl are ongoing.
Schilling said that the district has been strategic in the way it has sought ways to fund these projects. A few strategies District 158 has used to stretch its available dollars are prioritizing long-term improvements over short term ones, applying for applicable grants, and investing in zero-interest Qualified School Construction Bonds.
“Our district has been very fiscally responsible and has a long history of stewardship with finances, and prioritizing finances in ways that benefit students and families and taxpayers,” Schilling said.
Some of the improvements made to district schools are listed below, as explained by Schilling:
Older school buildings tend to have smaller classrooms that are not well-equipped to handle students with a variety of needs. Recent improvements have made classrooms larger and thus learning can be more effective.
- Memorial’s old stage did not have handicapped access, which prevented some students with special needs from participating in activities on the stage. The new stage has remedied this.
- Many of the old structures were not well-equipped to handle elements of a modern classroom, such as a Promethean board, which is an interactive white board.
- Some students are kinesthetic learners, and sitting in a traditional desk for most of the day is not conducive to their learning. “Things like a beanbag, or sitting on something that rocks, or a stool—things that help accommodate a more kinesthetic way to learn—those pieces are now embedded in our new schools,” Schilling said.
- Energy-efficient lighting is in use in many areas of District 158 schools, as is a highly efficient and customizable ventilation and airflow system.
- A new kitchen was built in 2018 to service the whole district and provide freshly made food to students instead of frozen food.
- More accommodations have been made for social-emotional issues as well, including “Reset Centers” where students can take a break and collect themselves. Schilling said that social worker and psychologist positions are fully staffed at the schools.
Schilling said that beyond any one particular improvement, an overall improvement in the district has been an increased sense of pride for all families. “I can’t think of another large elementary district like ours that has renovated 80% of its facilities,” he said.
“This facility initiative spans three administrations. It’s not just me, it’s Veronda Cottle as superintendent, it’s Cecilia Heiberger as superintendent, and now me, and a number of different school board members, several different business managers, who’ve all had input into this,” Schilling said. “There’s almost kind of a generational aspect to this that’s been really significant.”
Memorial Junior High School is located at 2721 Ridge Rd.
Calvin Coolidge Elementary School is located at 17845 Henry St.
Oak Glen Elementary School is located at 2101 182nd St.
Reavis Elementary School is located at 17121 Roy St.
Lester Crawl Primary School and the District 158 offices are located at 18300 Greenbay Ave.