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D-200 Board split on community engagement study

The Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education supports conducting a large-scale community engagement study.

The Board is not, however, entirely sure how to go about it or if a presentation at its most recent meeting offered the best way.

UNICOM•ARC was selected by a Board committee as a possible provider for the effort to determine what residents want the board to prioritize.

Dan Burns, a representative from the company, said that the proposed study would be an "entity on its own," including separate branding and websites, with the goal of putting the message in the hands of the community.

"It's important that everybody have the opportunity to participate in this process," Burns said. "This is a citizen-led, citizen-driven process."

Burns said that the UNICOM model, which D-200 used about a decade ago for a high school referendum question, included a few steps.

First, it would form a 12- to 15-person facilitative committee of staff, teachers and community members, which would work with the Board to determine a "charge," or focus, to guide the study.

From there, the committee and UNICOM would host a series of two hour-long resident workshops. Each workshop would have a specific topic and include a data presentation at the beginning, followed by small group brainstorming.

A staff member at each table would record verbatim responses. At the end of the process, UNICOM provide consensus points and suggested avenues for the Board.

Board Secretary Brad Paulsen said he was in favor of the idea.

"The community wants to have a dialogue. That's what this is about," he said.

The proposed cost of the study is about $60,000 over eight months. Burns stressed that the proposal was based on a monthly fee, so the Board could customize it to fit their monetary or timeline desires.

Still, some Board members were hesitant.

"This is a big cost in my mind, and I have to get over that hurdle. And I'm not there yet," said Board member Jim Mathieson.

Mathieson said that he could likely identify five or 10 issues confronting the district, including professional development, technology and reinstatement of programs such as B-teams in middle schools, and he would "be surprised" if the board received items that weren't on that list.

Mathieson wondered if the district could do a similar study in-house to minimize the costs, but Superintendent Brian Harris said it could not. Harris said that Naperville Community Unit School District 203, another UNICOM client, had "three times the communication staff we do" and still hired the firm.

"You can sit here on a Saturday and make some very good plans about the future of the school district," Burns said. "But none of that is going to get implemented if those plans are not saturated in your community and your community is not supporting you to move forward."

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