Revamped Eastside readies for opening

Published 9:10 pm Monday, August 8, 2011

Niles Community Schools Board of Education trustee Greg O’Toole spent his summer working at Eastside Connections School. Daily Star photo/JESSICA SIEFF

Inside the halls of Eastside Connections School, a large fan pushes air through the halls as the school’s advising principal, Robin Hadrick, also principal at Oak Manor Sixth Grade Center, adds some Niles Viking blue paint to the walls.

With just about a month to the first day of school, volunteers at Eastside have come a long way since renovations began.

The hallways have been stripped and repainted, classrooms have new carpeting, blinds, lights and whiteboards — even the gym has a fresh coat of paint.

“The teachers are starting to move into some of the classrooms,” said Greg O’Toole, a member of the Niles Community Schools Board of Education.

O’Toole has spent countless summer hours at the magnet school, working with volunteers to make sure the lower level of the building is ready when students step foot into their classrooms in September.

“I’m hoping that our part of it is done by the end of next week,” O’Toole said.

Classrooms are slowly coming to life. A dinosaur mat will greet kindergarteners in one of the school’s colorful rooms; boxes and boxes of books sit stacked in a makeshift library.

Eastside Connections School, which will operate as a magnet school and teach using project-based learning, the same format being used at New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy, was reopened after district officials turned to the community for help in coming up with a way to utilize the building.

Community response was for the district to reopen the school as a K-5 elementary school.[nggallery id=62]

To do so, the district called on volunteers to help with renovations, parents were asked to contribute their time as part of the application process to have their children enrolled in the school and transportation is not being provided by the district.

It’s been a labor of love for some volunteers like O’Toole, and he said when that first day arrives and the students head to their classrooms, he expects he’ll feel “satisfied.”

And he said his hopes are that those who see the progress made at the school will see the work of volunteers who came to the school throughout the summer, “for no reason except that they wanted to help, which is something I think we’ll need to build more of in our community.”

Along with the K-5 classrooms, O’Toole said part of the planning process was to prepare four or five extra classrooms, essentially preparing the school to add a grade level each year until the school will house students up to eighth grade.

“Every year we’re going to have another grade level at this building,” he said.

Those students who attend Eastside Connections School, O’Toole said, would have a guaranteed spot at Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy.

A New Tech prep school had been proposed to the community by officials originally and rejected for the magnet school format.

O’Toole said Eastside and New Tech represent a new option for education in the district.

“This isn’t necessarily better,” he said, compared to traditional methods of teaching, “it’s just different.”
With just weeks to go, O’Toole said most of the volunteers coming in to help with renovations at the school are down to a core group of helpers.

But it’s the effort of the volunteers from the beginning of the project, he said, that he believes will show the community what is possible and what could save the district funding in the future: community involvement.

“We can say this was rebuilt on the backs of some really dedicated people,” O’Toole said.

Some of them don’t even have children attending the school, he said.

“We’re just trying to do what we can do to provide the best environment for the kids,” O’Toole said.

There’s still plenty to be done. Doors still need to be hung, the hallways need to be cleaned and the work won’t end when the bell rings on that first day.

O’Toole said that’s when the district will begin taking a closer look at tracking the successes of their students from day one to diploma.

Begging the question, O’Toole asked: “How do we know what we’ve done for the last 13 years is profitable for their future?”