Niles superintendent hosts outdoor, active meeting to discuss back to school concerns

NILES — Dan Applegate walked 7 miles on Tuesday evening around the Niles High School track. He did not walk it alone, however.

The track, surrounding the football field, was the setting for the Niles Community Schools superintendent’s first Meeting on the Move, to address questions and discuss the questions and concerns surrounding the back to school plans.

Set up near the entrance of the track was a table with Vikings masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and folders containing drafts of the school’s plan summary and frequently asked questions. The back to school plan is due to be approved by the school district on Aug. 15.

“A lot of questions people are asking are very complex, and it’s a complex situation,” Applegate said. “A lot of questions are individualized to their own situation and their child’s situation. It’s very difficult to explain in an email.”
Applegate also recognized some concerns and explanations were ones families might not want to discuss in an open, remote meeting. Holding office hours to have people come in to speak with him also posed another logistical roadblock. Hosting a meeting outside, over four hours to spread out people and conversations, seemed to be the best option, he said.

“This is an opportunity to get some input from several people at a time,” he said. “We can walk. We can stop. I just want to make myself available.”

By the end of the event, Applegate had spoken with somewhere between 25 and 30 teachers, instructional aids, custodians, librarians, coaches and administrators.

Connie Wicklund, Niles band program director, was one of the first to walk laps on the track with Applegate.

“This was super fluid and friendly,” Wicklund said. “I feel like he really cared about my concerns.”

According to a representative for Applegate, he heard some great ideas on how the school district can stay connected with students if they are required to go virtual or remote again in the fall.

“Applegate and attendees discussed the uncertainty of funding [and] the confusion that exists among experts regarding the pandemic,” said Jeremy Witt, Applegate’s representative from Lambert.

Additional technology support, and ideas like large tents on school lawns and trying to find local locations to have students attend to may not be in in-person instruction, were also topics of discussion.

Applegate has plans to host more Meetings on the Move, and hopes to confirm dates soon.

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