Former District 113 Adversaries Still Wary
Steindler, Shapiro spar over demographics and vision.
As capital improvement ideas for Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools take a step forward, the divisiveness in the community over the failed $133 million referendum a year ago has ebbed but not gone away.
Members of the Township High School District 113 leadership team presented their ideas at a May 21 District 113 School Board meeting. At the same time, a representative from Education First presented that group’s specific plan for the two schools.
Education First was the primary group opposing the 2011 referendum and continues to advocate its positions about the schools’ needs. The community group supporting the referendum was CARE. Though its members remain involved in the process the organization is not currently active.
Now that the study group recommendations have been presented by community members, professionals will develop specific plans for the two schools that can be considered by the Board, the administration and ultimately the community, according to District 113 Communications Director Natalie Kaplan.
The District plans on creating a steering committee, made up of community members, to assist the professionals during the process, according to Kaplan.
Before the May 21 meeting, the District retained the services of Perkins & Will, an architecture firm, to begin to develop plans for Deerfield and Highland Park.
Harry Steindler of Deerfield, who was one of the leaders of CARE, believes the process has been open and transparent. “This has been a good, thorough and inclusive process,” he said. “I have seen bending from people who were on opposite sides.”
Steindler Fears Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Despite Steindler’s happiness with the process and progress to date, he fears Education First’s reliance on current demographic studies and vocational training will diminish the District’s two high schools.
“It will become a self fulfilling prophecy,” Steindler said of Education First’s ideas. “Education is much more than academics. If we do not provide facilities like our neighbors it will downgrade our community.”
Sam Shapiro, a member of Education First who presented the organization’s plan at the May 21 School Board meeting, dismisses Steindler’s fears. He has faith Highland Park and Deerfield will continue to provide high quality education.
“The Education First plan envisions top shelf facilities for the students,” Shapiro said. “It will provide facilities for the students to perform at the highest levels possible.” He believes the impetus for high quality education comes from teachers, students and engaged parents.
Plan Must Be Long Term
The weight Education First gives to an enrollment study commissioned by the District showing declining student bodies for both Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools by 2020 also worries Steindler. He wants a capital improvement plan to last from 25 to 50 years.
“By time the work is (realistically) done 2020 is only four years away,” Steindler said. “We have to have a viable plan for the next 25 to 50 years. Four years into the future doesn’t mean a whole lot.” He also expects a stagnant real estate market to open soon bringing younger families to Highland Park and Deerfield.
The major difference between Steindler and Shapiro on demographics is whether potential declining enrollment is permanent or temporary. Shapiro thinks the aging population of Baby Boomers will foster a long term enrollment decline.
When it comes to the ideas for the schools, Steindler remains happy with the progress and Shapiro is willing to consider modifications to the Education First proposals. “There’s always room for improvement,” he said.