ST. CHARLES – A citizens group formed to advocate for the betterment of schools in St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 is expanding its reach through launching a website.
'We're not the board, we don't have the vote," said Bobbie Raehl, one of the members of Citizens For D303 Accountability. "But I would like to think we're sentinels in the audience, sentinels for accountability, both fiscal and academic."
Raehl is a former District 303 board member and board president. The group's website is citizensd303.com.
Citizens For D303 Accountability started in 2017 in reaction to an overcrowding issue at Bell Graham and Wasco elementary schools. The group's Facebook page was previously called Overcrowded D303 Classrooms.
"We had some packed classes at 29," said Michelle Casile, who started the group with Zack Kluczenko. She also is an administrator for the group's Facebook page.
The group's members then decided to take a closer look at the overcrowding issue.
"We started asking questions," Kluczenko said. "Were folks on the east side or downtown also experiencing that? What we quickly found out was that it was an abnormality. There was great disparity. My belief in public schools is we should give everybody the same level of education."
While Kluczenko considers District 303 a "really good school district," he said there is room for improvement.
"We want to strive for that excellence and moving things to the next level," he said. "And right now, I don't think we're getting that. I don't think we're getting that progression towards excellence. That's what we are all focused on – how can we get the public to understand that there are gaps here."
The group now has identified other problems in District 303. For example, its website has data showing disparity in test scores between schools.
"Is being above average based on state scores good enough?" Raehl asked. "I think this group would say no."
Fixing the disparity in academic results and social experience at the district's elementary and high schools is one of the top 10 community concerns, according to the group's website. Casile said the group regularly talks to other community members.
"Our overall goal is that we would like the board to address these issues," Casile said.
Student success and school improvement were among the topics discussed at the school board's retreat on Aug. 24. In response to the group's website, District 303 School Board President Carolyn Waibel said, "We appreciate and invite community input, because we always believe we can improve our process and make it a better environment for our students."
"The district and the board welcome the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with our stakeholders," Waibel added. "It's one of our commitments, to develop trusting partnerships for the betterment of our students. Because of this, we actually created the Citizen Advisory Committee for this purpose, so the community can have a working part in creating ideas, solutions and ultimately potentially recommendations for the board moving forward for the district. The reason why we want to invite people to the Citizen Advisory Committee in particular is because it gives them an accurate and clear picture of what is going on by getting it directly from the district. When you're not getting information directly from the district, there's always an opportunity for the information to not be accurate and clear."
The Citizen Advisory Committee replaces the Community Relations Committee. People will soon be able to apply to be on the committee.