Back to school: More teachers at OPRF, solar panels in District 90, AC in District 97

When Oak Park and River Forest High School threw open its doors on Monday to welcome freshman students and the remainder of the student body on Tuesday for the 2014-15 school year, they were met by 24 new teachers.

“That will represent, believe it or not, 10 percent of our faculty,” said Principal Nathaniel Rouse. “I’ve just got to tell you after sitting in on those interviews, I am impressed with their skill sets and their backgrounds. It’s rare in these times to have so many new teachers.”

That’s only one of several changes parents, students and staff can expect at the high school as well as its feeder districts, Oak Park Elementary District 97 and River Forest School District 90. D97 and D90 will start classes on Monday, Aug. 25.

Rouse said the increase in the teaching staff is due in part to a steadily increasing enrollment, which last year topped 3,200 students. Additional teachers also are needed to keep up with educational mandates from the state, he added.

“It’s always the delicate balance,” he said. “We were in a position to earmark funding to bring in new teachers.”

Among the other changes parents and students can expect at the high school:

• Phase 1 of the Classroom Technology Integration Plan: More than 800 Chromebooks will be put to use in classrooms throughout the school.

• Strategic Plan implementation: Teams will be formed near the beginning of the school year to come up with strategies and activities to meet the goal of the five-year plan.

• PARCC testing: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is Illinois’ new performance-based assessment, intended to align with Common Core.

District 90

Students returning to District 90 will find more energy-efficient school buildings. All the windows at Frances Willard Elementary School have been replaced, and solar panels have been installed at each of the district’s three schools.

“In addition to increasing the comfort of the classrooms, we are pleased it will help with the efficiency as well,” said Superintendent Edward Condon.

D90 spokeswoman Dawne Simmons said the district will continue to refine the Common Core standards incorporated into the curriculum over the past three years. That includes increasing the reading levels for kindergarten through fourth grade and examining best practices in teaching math, she said.

“For instance, in grade four, they’re going to be reading more novels,” Simmons said.

Over the summer, she said, a cohort of teachers attended the Learning Sciences Research Institute in partnership with the University of Illinois-Chicago.

“One of the goals is to build greater teacher capacity and improving instructions for teaching Common Core Math,” Simmons said.

Though the district has offered science, technology, engineering and math programs at Roosevelt Middle School, this will be the first year similar programs will be offered at the elementary level, Simmons said.

“The approach is to look at not just the technology but the creativity, the problem solving and college and career readiness,” she said. “Our kids are moving more toward a STEM base and not just technology. Our kids already have a lot of technology.”

District 97

When the students return to D97’s elementary schools next week, they will find additional ways to stay cool during the last days of summer. Contractors are putting the finishing touches on new climate control systems for four classrooms in each of the district’s eight elementary schools.

The more recently built middle schools are already fully air conditioned.

The limited climate control systems, couched by district officials as a climate control study program to determine future needs, are a compromise to make available some air conditioning in the elementary buildings.

“In terms of the air conditioning, we have installed all of the temperature/humidity control sensors, and are in the process of finishing the installation of the 26 unit ventilators with air conditioning. We expect both will be ready for use on the first day of school,” said Chris Jasculca, the district’s senior director of policy, planning and communication.

“The data collected throughout the year via the ventilators and sensors will be used to identify potential solutions for temperature and humidity- related issues in our buildings,” he added.

In addition, Whittier, Beye, Irving and Mann elementary schools have been retrofitted to accommodate students with disabilities. Whittier received the most extensive renovations, making the building fully accessible.

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