Registration for Foundation 153's
10th Annual Fund Run is Now Open!
Register before June 30th for the chance to win FOUR DISNEY WORLD PARKHOPPER PASSES!
A Year of Living "Undercover"
I know that many of you are anxious to close the books on the 2018-19 school year and get on with your summer. 

We’ll do that in a moment, I promise. 

But first, I hope you will take a little time to look back with me. I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my education career this past year. I decided to try something new to get me out of my office, away from the computer and telephone. Like the television show “Undercover Boss,” I went “undercover” with various staff members across the district for a day. (Well, not so much undercover as they all knew ahead of time that I was coming. Sorry, no crazy disguises for this superintendent.)

I knew District 153 was home to the best educators around, but to see them in action and work alongside them was incredible!

And what amazingly talented, funny, persistent, hard-working, good mannered kids you send to us each day! I have so much optimism about the future of this community, state, and country thanks to this immersion with our students.

After each undercover experience, I wrote a little summary about the day to our staff. I have compiled them here for you too. I hope you enjoy reading my undercover diary.

And all of us at District 153 wish you a safe, restful, and healthy summer. Rest up, replenish, and we’ll all get back to work on our first day of school, Wednesday, Aug. 21.


Dr. Dale Mitchell, Superintendent
May 7: Kendra Duncan and Willow's Daily Living Skills Classroom
Last week I had the opportunity to spend the morning with Ms. Duncan’s Daily Living Skills class. She has created a very special relationship with her students. It was a heart-warming experience to be with these students and see the interaction among themselves, other staff members, and their peers. They are all beautiful, sweet kids that enjoy learning, love their teachers and peers, and belong in our school district.  I’m looking forward to watching a few of them progress over to Churchill next school year. As Ms. Duncan told me, they are ready for the next step in their educational journey, but she will miss them very much.

We had a blast in music class with Ms. Gdalman and in a unified PE class with Mr. Carey. Mr. Witkowski, and Ms. Mastela. We know all our specialists are amazing, but their willingness to be inclusive and set high expectations epitomizes our mission statement— All children will learn; All children will be served.  

Finally, a special thank you to the incredible assistants-Kim Burkman, Rhunavia Jefferson-Allen, Emily Schroeder, and Jessica-Lyn Tellis--that work closely with Ms. Duncan and all the students. We would not be able to house this program in-district without the care and support they provide to these students. They have created a place where all kids can follow their dreams!
April 11: Alison Lincoln, Asst. to the Principal, Churchill School
I had the privilege to work alongside Alison Lincoln, assistant to the principal at Churchill School. It is a source of pride for me that I hired Alison as a classroom teacher right out of college 12 years ago. It’s been very rewarding to watch her grow and develop into an amazing teacher and person. This year, Alison accepted this new role with a great deal of confidence but also a willingness to learn and try new things. As I watched Al work last week, I fondly recalled my days as a building level administrator and can appreciate the challenges she faces everyday dealing with student discipline, staff member concerns, and parent phone calls. We interacted with about 15-20 students for various disciplinary infractions throughout the day.

I can remember dealing with discipline issues--some serious--over 20 years ago in 153 schools. I also remember wondering if I was making any difference at all. But as I reminded Alison, often the difference you make doesn't show up for many years down the road. Many of the kids I worked with years ago are now in their 30’s with their own kids, a job, a house, and a fulfilling life--some have stopped by my office with a thank you for holding them accountable for their academics and behaviors.  

On my undercover visit, it quickly became apparent that Alison has a special bond with kids, and they have a great deal of respect for her. I have no doubt that as the years progress more and more young adults will come back and thank Alison for being there for them.  
March 15: Wanda Gunter and Willow School's computer lab
Last Friday, I had the chance to be “undercover” with Wanda Gunter in the Willow School computer lab. I was really looking forward to spending the day with Wanda and assisting kids as they worked on their various projects. I knew it would be a fun, relaxing day since we have known each other for many years. It is clear that Wanda loves what she does and cares deeply for all of the kids. She also gets parents and grandparents actively involved in the educational process and just about every class had a volunteer helping out.  That’s critical since the “little ones” need a lot of attention and help as they explore new programs. I’m pretty sure Wanda has developed extra powers after 30 years—like eyes in the back of her head and super hearing. It was also very cool to see K-2 kids using a variety of programs and tools to create their projects. The 2nd graders blew me away with their ability to “code” and to think through things logically and problem-solve. The kids were having fun, but also learning valuable skills that will help them as they progress through 153 and expand their technology skills in our STEM programs. Our students are very fortunate to experience caring teachers like Wanda every day and to have the opportunity to engage with technology throughout their K-8 education.

Willow is a magical place!  
March 14: 5th-grade teachers Kristin Esposito and Celeste Speer
I had the chance to spend the majority of last Thursday with Kristin Esposito and Celeste Speer in their 5th-grade co-taught classroom at Churchill School. [The class is co-taught because it contains some students with special needs.] They work together seamlessly to create a culture within their classroom that is inclusive, caring and that ensures all kids are learning and being served at high levels. All the kids are learning the same 5th-grade curriculum. All the kids benefit by having two teachers that are actively engaged with them throughout the day. They have created a wonderful classroom where kids are helping each other learn, respect each other, and are very well-behaved. The kids were super sweet!

I really enjoyed being at Churchill—thanks for the invite.
Feb. 25: James Hart SmartLab's Cherie Pesina and Katie Nigro
I had a great morning last week spending a few class periods with Cherie Pesina and Katie Nigro in the James Hart STEM and Creative Media Arts Lab. It is pretty amazing to see how these two programs have advanced in three short years. Katie and Cherie are masterful facilitators and the climate that they have developed in the SMARTLAB is very unique. The kids have endless opportunities to experience various topics in engineering, electronics, robotics, math, science, computer science, digital media arts, etc. It’s awesome that all of our students get a chance to participate in a collaborative, real world environment learning skills that will open doors for them in the future. With our recent expansion of a SMARTLAB at Churchill, it is providing earlier STEM experiences for students. I’m hopeful that they can envision themselves as future engineers, computer scientists, or in other tech. related professions. I’m confident that these types of programs will help eliminate the race and gender gaps in these fields and provide Homewood kids an advantage in the future workforce. We have to stay vigilant, maintain high expectations and believe that our students can become whatever they desire. 
Feb. 19: Sandra Pons and James Hart's Daily Living Skills classroom
I had another amazing day being “undercover” with the Daily Living Skills (DLS) class at James Hart. Sandra Pons is an amazing, caring teacher that has created an incredible classroom environment. The educational support staff—Theresa Hammonds, Emily Isom, and Patti Pohrte are unparalleled in their care and commitment to these students too. They are with them every step of the way, and it’s clear they love their jobs.  

The kids are just as amazing—they are passionate about learning, super sweet, and appreciate everything we do for them. It might be the best kept secret, but I think I may have found the best job in the district. You can’t help but fall in love with these awesome kids. We did everything—studied current events, worked on math problems, read a story, studied vocabulary words, reviewed new science terms, did the PE uniform laundry, danced a couples of times, and attended Specials and PE. We played Kahoot—learning new science terms. I was doing pretty good for the first few questions, actually near the lead, but fell off to 5th place by the end. The kids kicked my butt!  

I also went with Sandra to Jewel. She goes once a week during her plan/lunch time to buy a few groceries for their cooking activity. I hope I get some of the nachos they are making tomorrow!  

This program would not be successful, and these kids would not be experiencing school the way it is meant to be without all the caring adults and kids in the building. It’s wonderful that these students get a chance to attend James Hart and all things we offer. I also think it is a valuable experience for all the kids in the building, and I’m hopeful we can continue new ways for kids to connect through mentoring and buddy programs.
Jan. 17: 2nd-Grade Teacher Patti Jo Boehm
I had an incredible day last week in Patti Jo Boehm's 2nd-grade classroom. Patti Jo has created a very special learning community within her classroom, and I felt lucky to be a part of it for the day. The kids were amazing, engaged in their activities and treated each other very kindly. It was also wonderful to see how Mr. Raffety provided support to a couple of students in the classroom, but also assisted all kids as necessary. He’s a great guy and it was fun to get to know him a little better too! After lunch, Ms. Sutton also stopped by and guided the kids through a lesson on friendship for about 30 minutes. As I have mentioned before, it was great to observe how many caring professionals are working together to make sure kids are successful in 153. The kids are very lucky to have Patti Jo as their teacher and will benefit for many years due to the experiences they are receiving this year.
Dec. 14: Churchill School's Physical Education Team
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to spend the day with the Churchill PE staff—Nicole Blalock, Taylor Mixen, John London, and Wayne Perry. They are an amazing team that work very well together to ensure all the students have an opportunity to learn new skills and participate in the activity. My day started fairly smoothly by helping John with his morning duty--checking in busses from about 8:00AM to 8:25AM. It stays pretty busy since he needs to check-in all the regular routes and all the music busses coming from Hart. It’s clear that John has a really great rapport with all the students and bus drivers. Just a quick side note—our bus drivers were also pretty amazing—helping kids get off the busses, saying good bye, have a nice day, etc. I think it helps set the tone for the kids to start their day in a positive way. 

The next 6.5 hours were really interesting to observe and participate with them and the kids in Day two of their bowling unit. It was impressive how they are able to rotate kids in and out the gym, get them settled, and get the lesson/activity started without much interruption. Each class starts the same with a brief warm-up prior to some instructions on the activity. Each period, we had 3 teachers and 3 sections (75 kids) in the gym, plus me! Ok—I probably was not much help, but it was heartwarming to see the kids learning a new skill, taking turns, encouraging one another, and laughing. It was pretty clever how they had the gym set-up to maximize the space and organizing students into different squads, so everyone had a chance to bowl, set-up pins, and tally their score. Yea—they were doing some math. They have also started rotating the kids through our new social-emotional learning curriculum, Second Step. All the PE staff gave the program a very positive review.  

It was great day. I got in 8,400 steps and 60 push-ups in 6.5 hours and never left the gym.  

Thanks—Nicole, Taylor, John, and Wayne!  I truly enjoyed the day and it was great to be in your shoes for the day.
Oct. 31: MaryBeth Johnson, Willow School's Greeter
I had an incredible Halloween morning being an undercover boss with MaryBeth Johnson, 10 month greeter/secretary, at Willow School. MaryBeth is amazing! I’m convinced that she has some secret powers that allow her to juggle multiple things at once, never gets flustered, and do it all with an incredible smile and grace. The care she displays on a daily basis for all 630 Pre-K-2 students, Willow staff, and what feels like hundreds of parents coming and going is very inspiring. She is a big reason why Willow is such a happy and welcoming place for everyone.

She is also surrounded by an entire office team that works collaboratively and tirelessly to ensure the building is running smoothly and all kids are safe. Just managing the dismissal of 630 younger kids is a miraculous feat that occurs every day. I also want to acknowledge and give a big thank you to Carla Hildreth, Jessica Ellis, Gail Straney, Nany Wood, and Melissa Lawson for all you do. I had a blast being an office shark! I have to admit the Willow team took it to a different level—I was even punk’d! Thanks Sam—I’m still laughing, and I’m surprised the undercover video has not gone viral.
Sept. 22: Cyndi Fuss, 8th-Grade Special Education
Last week I had the opportunity to spend the day with Cyndi Fuss, an 8th-grade special education assistant. Cyndi and I have been a part of the 153 family for almost the same length of time. Mr. Bob Swanson, former principal at Willow School, hired Cyndi away from Flossmooor 161 (sorry, 161) as a health aide on October 24, 1995. The following year it became apparent that we needed a health coordinator not a health aide so Cyndi was hired as a special education assistant at James Hart. Twenty-three years later, Cyndi's still doing an amazing job for our special education students. 

It was a remarkable day working with her and the wonderful students she serves every day. It was very clear from the beginning of the day that Cyndi is an integral part of these students' day and why they are able to show such great academic growth.  There is an expectation that her students work with grade-level material and get prepared for HF. The kids struggle a little bit, but with her support and guidance, they are able to achieve a great deal more than they might even believe.  It was also heartwarming to see the care and patience displayed by all of the teachers that Cyndi works with on a daily basis. A special thank you to Lisa Ablin, Ginny Donahue, Amy Liedtke, and Brianna Turek for welcoming me into their classrooms and observing how a team approach benefits all kids. All of you are amazing teachers!  
Oct. 12: Charles Vaughn, James Hart night custodian
The other night, I spent the evening with Charles Vaughn working as a night custodian at James Hart. I knew Charles a little bit and admire his service as a Marine with two tours of duty during the Vietnam conflict. He’s a true American hero, and his life story is worthy of a novel. He is a kind, hardworking, and humble man that demonstrated a great deal of patience with me. He taught me how to use some of the machines and clean the bathrooms correctly! My wife will be happy when I try out my new skills at home.

I also learned about the challenges of their job and the different obstacles that our custodians face on a nightly basis. We discussed some simple solutions that will help him do his job even better and a little easier.  

Charles takes great pride in his work and does it with a smile!  
Upcoming Events
Monday, June 10
School Board Meeting, JH Media Center, 7:00 PM
For a complete list of upcoming events, please check our website calendar.