Front Page

By Theresa Kelly Gegen

A mandatory “mask break” takes place each quarter at a high school basketball game, and between games the athletic trainer sprays the bench area, looking more like (and performing the work of) an exterminator. It’s not really a bench anymore — chairs for the team members are spread out in zig-zag rows. The stands are mostly empty. A few fans are allowed in person, and others, notably doting, beloved, sports-loving grandparents, watch via livestream. It’s the first game of the season — in mid-February — and everyone in the gym feels lucky to be playing at all.
Who could have imagined this a year ago? These are the things we are doing to keep kids safe, balanc­ing that with giving them a semblance of normal.
We hear a lot these days about the “new normal,” the “post-pandemic normal,” and the “next normal.” Suffice to say things are different than they were a year ago, in all facets of lives. Everyone is adapting, with the education community often leading the way. As this issue of the Illinois School Board Journal illus­trates, school facilities are, by necessity, at the fore­front of adaptations, no matter what the prompt.
James Fritts, a frequent and welcome collabora­tor with IASB, brings a list of ideas stemming from a class on budget and finance, with an “ideas that stick” prompt. His students discussed “innovations in building operation and maintenance, transpor­tation, food services, technology and other areas that improved the health of the school’s occupants, opened up space to better support instruction, enhanced learning technology in the school and in students’ homes.” These ideas are shared here in “When the ‘New Normal’ Arrives: Applying the Les­sons of the Pandemic,” starting on page 10.
In the before times, and certainly again in the future, natural disasters beyond viruses would and will impact schools in Illinois and across the nation. School infrastructures build, re-build, and improve as storms, fires, and floods cause damage — sometimes local, sometimes widespread — to school facilities. The [Re]Build America’s School Infrastructure Coa­lition (BASIC) is a non-partisan coalition of civic, government, and industry organizations who support federal funding to help underserved public school districts modernize their facilities. BASIC believes that all children should attend healthy, safe, and edu­cationally appropriate school facilities. Beyond that, schools are fixtures in their communities, and BASIC notes that often, community recovery depends on schools. We share some of the organization’s work, “Schools Fulfill Vital Role in Community Recovery,” starting on page 15.
As each article points out, and school board mem­bers come to know, financial responsibility goes along with the multitude of practical and safety factors in school facilities planning. Also in this Journal, we hear from a team from THSD 203 on long-term planning, and gain insight on equity and resource management and budgeting, from Sara R. Shaw of ISBE and Carrie B. Stewart of Afton Partners. We thank all of the contributors to this issue. As Shaw and Stewart introduce their work, they note, “We are in a time of incredible uncertainty and exacerbated instructional inequities. As school board members, your governance is more important than ever…”
There’s another new and next normal on the horizon. Many boards of education will soon welcome new members, and IASB is preparing the next Journal, and dozens of other resources, to welcome them and introduce them to the journey they are taking. If veteran board members and other readers would like to share words of experience and wisdom with new board members, please send them to the email address below. We look forward to hearing from you, and seeing you again soon.
Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal and can be reached at