District 102 chief lays framework for change

Schumacher: People need 'to think differently about education'

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing Reporter

Change is in the wind for Brookfield-LaGrange School District 102, parents of students at Congress Park School in Brookfield learned on Dec., 1 as new the superintendent, Kyle Schumacher, presented "Future-Proofing Our Kids ... Really?"

The presentation, the last of five that Schumacher gave to district families over a two-month span, drew 30 parents to the library at Congress Park, most of whom came away with impressed with the presentation and the new superintendent.

Schumacher started at District 102 in August, coming from a district in Telluride, Colorado. Attendance at the Congress Park presentation was highest of the five, according to district officials, with the other four presentations attracting an average of between 22 and 26 parents.

Those attending learned a lot about their new superintendent as he raced through a program that included a PowerPoint presentation, a YouTube video, small group discussions and give-and-take between Schumacher and the parents.

Although he did not disclose what changes he was preparing to make, a choice he said later was deliberate, Schumacher was clear that he believes the existing educational system needs to be changed. 

He addressed a list of educational concepts ranging from Common Core to standardized testing, noting that, although most have some benefits, none provides a complete solution.

Schumacher invited parents to work with him to restructure the District 102 approach so students to not only survive but also to thrive.

"We need to get people to think differently about education," Schumacher said after the presentation. "It's a big stretch for a lot of people."

The majority of those attending the presentation had no problem making that stretch, with most speaking in positive terms.

"The ideas he's presenting are the right ones," said Ed Campbell of Brookfield, who has two children attending Congress Park. "He's coming at it from a very-reasoned perspective."

"The presentation was great," said Judi Lundberg of Brookfield, with one child at Congress Park and another at Park Junior High School in LaGrange Park. "I liked that he focused less on test scores and more on teaching to kids' abilities."

"We're on the right track with Dr. Schumacher," said Michelle Pulli of Brookfield, who has one child at Congress Park. "I'm glad that there's help for parents to guide their children."

Kathy Wittleder of La Grange, with two children at Ogden School in La Grange, one of whom has dyslexia, termed the presentation "very refreshing."

She said she and a group of parents have been talking with district officials "for years" about using more non-traditional methods to teach their children and expressed optimism things might change under Schumacher.  

Similar thoughts were expressed by Elizabeth Gillette of Brookfield, who has two children at Congress Park; Heather Stenson of Brookfield, with one child at Congress Park; and Jim Carlson of Brookfield, who teaches first grade at Congress Park.

Gillette said she looked forward to teachers and administrators "bringing out the best in each child."

A more tempered response came from Erica Gallagher of LaGrange, who has three children attending district schools.

"I think it's an awesome goal, but seems unrealistic for a public school," she said. 

However, she was supportive of Schumacher, noting he is a "great guy with good intentions."

At the conclusion of his presentation Dec. 1, Schumacher explained to those attending that he intends to continue the dialogue with "visioning sessions" in January, February and March to help determine the direction the district takes. He said he also plans to solicit parent input via e-mailed surveys.

After the presentation, Schumacher said he is seeking a response or reaction from the community to help determine the direction the district takes. He noted "there's a lot of energy" in District 102 and acknowledged that the district has "done a lot" already.

Finances will have an impact on how many changes will be implemented, Schumacher acknowledged. 

"We're going to look at additional resources," he said, mentioning grants as a possibility. "We're also going to look at how we allot existing resources."

Schumacher said feedback he received from parents on Dec. 1 was mostly favorable, which matched feedback he received from those attending the other four presentations.

"People are enthusiastic to continue the conversation," he said. "They are enthusiastic to be asked to be part of the solution."

The sentiment was echoed by Pulli, who said, "I like that there's even an outreach."

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