After a stressful summer of following and reacting to the path of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Trier High School’s staff and board of education returned to business as usual on Monday, Aug. 24.
During the School Board’s meeting Monday evening, staff reported on the first day of school earlier in the day while board members approved the next round of summer construction.
Both principals reported a positive first day and said both students and staff were happy to be back on campus.
“(It’s) just a lot of fun to be back on campus with a lot of energy,” Northfield Principal Paul Waechtler said.
Winnetka Principal Denise Dubravec agreed.
“Kid were whooping and hollering as they were coming into the building, and putting their masks on,” she said.
The principals added that there have been few issues with students not abiding by the mask mandate and said most students who are seen without a mask indoors usually put on their mask when reminded by a staff member.
They also highlighted some changes to school traditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, parent-teacher conferences were held virtually. Waechtler said the school intends to do that again this year, citing not just the pandemic, but also popularity among parents, especially those who may be unable to visit in person because of work or children at both campuses. Waechtler said the school will revisit this in the future to determine if this should continue permanently or only be temporary.
Additionally, in most years parents of sophomore students receive a home visit from their child’s adviser. Because of the pandemic, home visits are no longer done, but Dubravec said advisers have figured out creative ways to still visit with parents. One adviser set up a tent outside the school where parents and their students were welcome to visit.
Associate Superintendent Chris Johnson added that, when dealing with the pandemic, if a student is absent from school, that absence needs to be reported via the website, where a comprehensive form can be located.
If a student is diagnosed with COVID-19, it should be reported to the school immediately. From there, staff will reach out to the student and their family to determine the proper follow-up procedures. This includes notification of students and families who may have been in class or close contact with the student.
The board took action on summer projects, which are part of the school’s 15-year facilities framework and include roof replacement at the Winnetka Campus, adding LED lighting to some of the gyms for energy efficiency, replacing basketball backboards and building envelope work such as tuckpointing.
The upcoming projects are estimated at $3 million.
Johnson said that compared to the last two years of summer construction projects, the summer 2022 plans are “slimmed down” because of the upcoming Winnetka Campus east side renovation project, which includes the demolition of the Gates Gym, will be happening concurrent to the summer projects.
Johnson said the goal was to “concentrate both our management, our financial resources on that project (Gates Gym and east side) to make sure that goes well and that’s completed successfully, but still make sure we’re doing some critical maintenance pieces just to keep the building running efficiently.”
He said the east side project is expected to start in December or January and will be finished in 2023. That project is currently in the design phase.
“We’re doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to coordinate mechanical systems to make sure that the design we’re seeing on the screen is actually realized, with all the systems integrated to reduce change orders later,” he said, adding that right now they’re working on site utility work such as new gas and electric service that is easier to do when there is less activity on campus and before winter arrives.
Johnson also highlighted the just-completed renovation work on both campuses, which included the renovation of the third floor at the Winnetka Campus, the D Building at the Northfield Campus, basketball backboards and a new dividing door at the Northfield Campus gyms, and the relocation of the math department office to the third floor of the Winnetka Campus, which also saw the conversion of the former math department office into two 800 square foot classrooms.
There were also bathroom renovations done to facilities that hadn’t seen any major work in 50 years.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.