It’s a new chapter for Lake Bluff School District 65. There is a new superintendent in place with hopes of bringing an era of stability. The formalities are out of the way, now the hard work is in place.
District 65 is now under the direction of Dr. Jean Sophie, hired earlier this year with the hopes of stifling a tumultuous period for the District given that she is the fourth superintendent since 2003.
She has plenty of work ahead as some parents have grown weary of the merry-go-round in the superintendent’s office.
“I would love to see our district have some leadership,” acknowledged PTO President Kate Amaral. “Our district has not had had good leadership for six years and one that offers continuity. We’ve had a lot of changes with new superintendents and new principals and we need some strong leadership.”
Sophie Is on a Listening Tour
Sophie said she has spent the first couple of months listening and getting to know staff, teachers, board and community members and has come away very impressed.
“I love this district,” she said. “I love the kids, the families, and the community. It is a really great place to raise kids.”
Later this month she plans to announce specific aims for the District and how it can achieve higher levels, starting with academics but also as a place in the community.
“I think one of the reasons they hired me is we are going to have a new start with a new superintendent and it has been quite a while since the strategic plan has been revisited,” she said.
What will be looked at this year is making sure there is universal language for the children both in math and language arts.
“It’s important that as we look at school improvement efforts that we have a common language that we are all using from Kindergarten to Eighth grade,” Sophie explained. “It’s easier to align curriculum and make sure we are actually working as a system if we are using the same language.”
Philosophy Change Coming
Taking a specific look at math courses, Sophie said there will be a philosophy change in the way often dry material is presented to students.
“Not only are we teaching facts but we are teaching application so kids can solve real life problems,” she said. “Math cannot be taught in isolation it needs to be taught with actual practice and application.”
Those are two of the initiatives in place for the two schools that have a combined 875 students. Eight new teachers are in place in 2012-13, replacing others who have retired or moved on.
Sophie desires to have communication improve with Lake Bluff as a whole. “I really think the school is a central location in any community and all community members need to know what is going on in our schools,” she said.
In terms of communication with her new colleague at District 67, Dr. Michael Simeck, who took the reins recently over Lake Forest after the retirement of Dr. Harry Griffith, Sophie said she has already met with Simeck twice. Both elementary school systems send their children into Lake Forest High School.
Another main question that will draw some attention is what will the District do with the approximate $12 million it has in reserves, which is a sizable in comparison to the approximate $16 million annual budget.
“We are watching our house value plummet and still paying high taxes, however looking at those financials, it is not even a full year’s operative costs. I don't think it is a bad idea to have almost a year’s operating (fund) in reserve,” Amaral noted. “The only way we are going to draw young families into our area is by having a strong school system.”
Sophie Recognizes Economic Challenges
For other besieged property taxpayers like Amaral, Sophie is cognizant of the challenging economy, but she and the board are looking to make a decision as to what to do with the money that will benefit both in the short and long term.
“It’s important for us to determine a long term people where any reserves will go. I think our board is very interested in looking at the levy we will be doing over the next couple of months and trying to possibly to provide some relief on that front to taxpayers,” she said. “I’d much rather have the problem with having reserves than not having reserves but we have to be very thoughtful and make sure the money spent here is in alignment with the goals we set for our strategic plan.”
There are all sorts of other initiatives in place for Sophie as she gets her feet wet. At the end of the day what will make this inaugural year for her successful in Lake Bluff?
“Data will show that students will have grown in the past year in the core subjects,” she said. “That students are successful in all the different extracurricular activities we have to offer here. The community feels that the district is an asset and is excited about learning and the district is financially responsible.”