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North Chicago will start transition to an elected school board in 2025, with a fully elected board in 2027

A large group of students sit in an auditorium together. Most of the students are sitting in beige chairs with blue face masks on turning to speak to each other.

After a decade under state control, North Chicago School District 187 will transition back into an elected school board starting in 2025.

Youngrae Kim for Chalkbeat

The Illinois State Board of Education has agreed to transition North Chicago School District 187 back to having an elected school board after a decade under state control. Elections will begin in 2025 with three out of seven seats up for election; by 2027, the board will be fully elected.

The state board voted unanimously on Wednesday to return the suburban school district to an elected school board after North Chicago made academic and financial gains over the past 10 years. The district serves 3,000 students across eight schools. The student population is predominantly Latino and 81% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, according to the 2021 state report card.

State Superintendent Carmen Ayala recommended a slow transition because the coronavirus pandemic set the district’s academic growth back a few years and the district is in the middle of spending over $17 million in federal emergency funds.

“A transition of this magnitude is not to be taken lightly,” said Ayala on Wednesday. “The last thing we want to do is jeopardize student’s academic and social-emotional recovery, especially during this critical time as they recover from the pandemic.”

Starting in 2025, the state board plans to expand the current Independent Authority board — which was created during the state’s oversight of the district — to seven members, with three members elected by the North Chicago residents. The state superintendent will continue to appoint the chairperson and remaining members of the Independent Authority board.

By 2027, the state board will disband the Independent Authority and residents will be able to vote for all seven seats. 

The state board of education plans to create a community advisory group made up of residents in North Chicago, the Independent Authority board, the Financial Oversight Panel, elected officials, district parents, and students to create a plan to ensure that the transition to an elected school board is successful. The state board will release a plan by Jan. 15, 2023. 

The state board stepped in to take over the North Chicago school district in 2012, citing financial troubles, quick turnover of superintendents, and low test scores that showed students barely meeting or exceeding the state’s standards. The district was on the state’s academic watch list for years.

While the state has changed how it measures student academic performance twice since taking over North Chicago’s schools, state data shows the district made significant improvements in English and math. In 2015, just 12% of students were proficient in English, compared to 16% in 2019. In 2015, 9% of students met the bar in math, compared to 12% in 2019.  

State officials also said the North Chicago school district’s financial score went from 3.25 out of 4 in 2012 to an estimated 3.7 in 2021.

With the progress made by the district, local elected officials and community members agree with the state board of education’s plan to transition slowly to an elected school board. Some, however, disagreed if the transition should take place in 2023 or in 2025. 

The state board conducted five community meetings from May to September at schools throughout the North Chicago district to hear what residents think about transitioning back to an elected school board. 

According to the feedback the state board received, a large majority of residents wanted an elected school board even though there was some disagreement about when it should take place. Twenty-four comments, or 48%, were in favor of an elected school board to transition in 2025 or with no specified timeline. Twenty comments, or 40%, were in favor of an elected school board by 2023. Only three comments, or 6%, were against an elected school board.

Elected officials and residents of North Chicago who attended the state board meeting on Wednesday morning and spoke in favor of a slow transition. 

Leon Rockingham, mayor of the city of North Chicago, said that he was wary of transitioning to an elected school board too quickly.

“I fear that if we move too quickly to local elections for the school board before candidates have the time to solidify support from the community, obtain signatures for petitions and have the proper time to campaign,” said Rockingham. “This would cause an adverse effect on all the positives.” 

Cynthia Jackson, a resident of North Chicago who was involved in the district’s strategic plan, said the district has yet to meet all of its goals for its strategic plan.

“A change in leadership could jeopardize the success track of our students. A shift to an elected school board at this time would be detrimental to the academic success of district 187 students,” said Jackson. “The needs of our students should be our top priority.”

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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