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Community letter from Cook County School Board Chair on Playhouse Lease

Jun 20, 2020 04:38PM ● By Editor

By Dan Shirley, Board Chair, Cook County Schools ISD 166 - June 20, 2020


On Thursday evening, June 18, at the Board Meeting of Cook County Schools ISD 166, I brought before the Board a transformative and actionable plan to begin the process of dismantling and reckoning with the systemic issues that have plagued all public institutions in this Country. The “Respect for All” Initiative is ambitious and far reaching. It will result in cultural and systemic changes that will enrich our school and community, making it better for everyone. The Board greeted this draft Initiative with an open mind and open heart and made a commitment to embarking on this journey. 

I’m really proud of the courage displayed by my colleagues to take seriously these issues; far too many times passed over, and commit to being leaders in the effort for change. Not only in Cook County, but in the State and beyond. 

Since joining the Board, I have believed in this need for change and held these values dear, but wasn’t sure how or if it would come. It took the tragic death of George Floyd and resulting groundswell to really help crystalize those ideals into an actionable plan. I’m proud of where we are heading with this plan knowing that it has, and will be, a deep collaboration with many stakeholders including teachers, administrators and the Grand Portage community. I’m committed to holding ourselves accountable to this endeavor and evolving the Initiative to address the ever changing challenges and needs. Our community partnerships will be so vital in this effort. 

Another priority of mine as Board Chair is to increase the communications capacity and standard of the District. ISD 166 is Cook County’s school, and we need to do a better job of exchanging information with everyone. This issue is front and center of our strategic planning. We currently have a survey circulating soliciting input from all stakeholders to make sure we have the data to substantiate the need. Thank you for your input. 

The recent outcry surrounding the lease of space in the School’s Arrowhead Center for the Arts (ACA) to the Grand Marais Playhouse (Playhouse) is emblematic of the pressing need for action on the two priority areas I have listed: better communication and prioritizing the value of cultural enhancement in our school and community. 

I’m committed to working constructively with ISD 166 administration to better understand the changing needs of the School and the resource landscape. I’m committed to segueing into a similar conversation with leadership and Board of the Playhouse, with the intention to collaborate on a solution to meet our collective needs. This is how problems get solved in a professional and respectful manner. During the process of addressing the most pressing issues, I will motivate the creation of a more robust communication structure that is not dependent on specific individuals, rather relies on a process that anybody who happens to be filling the roles can follow. 

Resource allocation is one of the hardest parts of School Administration. There are so many needs and they are all noble: to enrich the experience and lives of our kids. We should all keep this reality at the forefront of our minds as we discuss these issues, knowing that while we may have different perspectives, we are all working for the same goal. Honesty and integrity will light the path to our solutions. 

Effective communication is like a dance. It takes engagement by all parties. Sometimes you need to lead and sometimes you need to follow. It doesn’t mean that you always hear what you want to hear. 

We as a community play a large part in one of the most important aspects of education: character development of our youth. These lessons are not always nor exclusively taught in the classroom. They are often taught when our kids observe us adults interacting with our friends, neighbors and colleagues. Kids take keen note of our temperament, the words we choose and the way we share our messages. Let’s all do our part to make sure we are modeling the values that matter: empathy, respect and integrity. It takes a village. 

Respectfully Submitted, 

Dan Shirley 
Board Chair, Cook County Schools ISD 166 




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