By Bob Balgemann


MACHESNEY PARK – Harlem School District 122 is all about helping educate boys and girls so they’re well rounded and ready to be successful, productive adults.

To accomplish that end, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes.

Members of the Harlemites, graduates of Harlem High School, were given some insight into that process March 2, during their monthly breakfast meeting at VFW Post 9759.

The tour was conducted by Heather Kelley, president of the District 122 board of education, and Julie Morris, superintendent of schools.

Kelley touched on the board itself, which is entrusted with making sure the district meets its multi-faceted goals while running as smoothly as possible. The board consists of seven members, with diverse backgrounds including a social worker, paralegal, manager of a transportation company and an engineer.

All are designated as “master board members,” she said, and they were recognized by the state in 2011-12-13-14 for “outstanding board governance.” Only nine other boards statewide have accomplished that.

The board has a vision and goals; it is guided by a long-range plan, she continued. They have a means of monitoring student programs, to be certain they’re effective and meeting those goals.

There is a code of conduct for board members.

Kelley said the board is responsible for being sure buildings that house students, faculty and other employees are safe and operated efficiently.

Safety always has been a priority but it has emerged as a primary focal point because of the horrific incidents that have occurred nationally since the shootings at Columbine in 1999.

Parker Center and Olson Park Elementary School saw their entrances made more secure last year and more such steps will be taken this summer, at other buildings.

There was an addition at Parker Center, the district opened the freshman campus off Elm Avenue and the community came together last year on a $700,000 project that saw artificial turf installed at the football stadium.

“We developed a facilities plan five years ago,” the board president said. “We looked at all buildings and parking lots. There are several improvements projects going on at any particular time.”

District 122 has encountered financial challenges, she said, because of the Great Recession that began in 2008. “We are turning the ship around,” she said. “The (new) governor is committed to more dollars for education. We’re hoping he holds true to that.”

Community connection

Morris was appointed superintendent in 2007 and she talked about the importance of the school district connecting with the community.

She recognized Cathy Martin, who organized the stakeholder engagement department. Morris noted that while many say that’s important, they often think, “Well, we’ll get to that.”

District 122 has done more than think about it and as a result, most schools now have several partners from the community and they work together to enhance the learning environment.

While Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he supports additional funding for education, Morris said, yet educators “have be sure legislators do not lose the topic of educational funding.”

She said the state “has not done a good job” of filling in the difference between what the district is able to raise locally and what is needed to educate students. What the state has done, she said, is to reduce funding support and to cut grants.

“(State) funding is not equitable or sufficient,” she said. While she believed there were would be an increase in educational dollars, she also believed that would come at the expense of various services.

“We are not going to let Senate Bill 16 drop,” she said.

That measure, which failed last year, would provide more equity in funding between suburban school districts and those such as Harlem 122.

“Suburban schools have a larger funding base than we do and have more money than they need,” Kelley said.

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