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March/April 2021

Practical PR: District 303 Partners with Stakeholders to Create Comprehensive Facility Master Plan

 
By Carol L. Smith
 
The St. Charles CUSD 303 school board believes that strong partnerships with all stakeholders ensure that students have access to rigorous curriculum, innovative learning experiences, and opportunities for academic, social, and emotional growth.
 
In 2019, as part of the district’s strategic commitment to engage our families and the community, the school board established a Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) to help promote ongoing two-way conversations. More than 60 people applied to be part of the committee. The school board committee co-chairs interviewed prospective members and chose a group of 24 individuals, made up of parents, community members, and students. Six of the members also serve in a leadership capacity on the executive team.
 
When the CAC was formed, the school board planned for the group to learn about, discuss, and make recommendations on several initiatives. In the fall of 2020, the group, along with staff members from all grade levels, began the process of developing a comprehensive, long-range Educational Facilities Master Plan.
 
School Board President Nicholas Manheim said that community involvement is imperative to this process. “When the school board implemented the CAC, we knew their input would be vital in creating a sustainable long-range facility playbook that will serve students and support programs over the next decade without asking the community to approve a referendum.”
 
Located in Kane County, District 303 serves approximately 12,000 students in 17 Pre-K through high school buildings spread across 54 square miles. The district is one of the largest employers in the county, with over 2,400 staff members. The age of buildings in the district ranges from 20 to 90 years old, which often poses challenges related to space, accessibility, maintenance, and infrastructure. The operations and maintenance staff works tirelessly to care for the over 2 million square feet that make up our schools and administrative buildings.
 
While the sheer magnitude of creating a comprehensive long-range facility master plan in a district this size might seem daunting, the committed volunteers rolled up their sleeves and quickly got to work. District administrators including the chief financial officer, chief academic officer, and assistant superintendent for operations spent time with committee members educating them about the complex issues around district finances, current and future innovative programming, and the facilities themselves.
 
Even before the committee was formed, building-level teams worked with the architectural firm to create a comprehensive Educational Alignment Assessment for each school, to analyze how well the buildings meet the needs of students, staff, administrators, and community members. The Assessment has provided committee members with an invaluable baseline document from which they can compare “best practice” planning for standards of size, capacity, and missing components needed to support educational and instructional goals.
 
The comprehensive planning included three focus group interest areas — learning spaces, community spaces, and physical conditions. Committee members had the opportunity to participate fully in one of these groups. They met several times over the course of three months to examine the Educational Alignment Assessment, tour facilities, and develop needs statements that provide criteria for exploring solutions presented to the school board.
 
During their time in our district, many community and staff members have only spent time in the schools their children attend, or where they work. Touring five elementary schools, one middle school and both high schools provided the members with perspective and brought the elements they read on paper to life. In addition, the high school students who are part of the committee added insights and viewpoints from those who navigate those spaces daily. CAC Executive Team member Pat Stacey felt the tours added value to the process, “Allowing our members to physically see and walk the spaces we had been discussing, made the building concerns and needs so much more understandable. The tour also gave us the opportunity to do some comparisons giving us a better understanding about what a more functioning space might look like.”
 
In January, the team presented key findings and preliminary needs statements to the school board’s business services committee. The feedback received as part of that conversation will be used by the committee to further develop and finalize recommendations that will be presented to the school board in the spring.
 
School districts cannot do it alone. “District facilities go beyond buildings that house our students, staff, and programs. Our schools reflect the core values of our district and broader community, bridging multiple generations. It’s important to engage the voices and perspectives across the district to shape our investment in the future,” according to District 303 Superintendent Jason Pearson, Ed.D.
 
It is only through partnerships with our parents, staff, and community members that we can truly succeed in our mission. We are confident that the collective experiences, knowledge, and commitment of this group of individuals will create a meaningful blueprint the school board and district can use to support the students, staff members, community, and programs of District 303.
 

Carol L. Smith is Director of Communications and Community Relations for St. Charles CUSD 303 and 2020-21 President of INSPRA, the Illinois chapter of the National School Public Relations Association