State superintendent visits District 86

Stops in technical education classrooms highlight of his tour of Hinsdale Central Friday

Hinsdale Central got the chance to show off its career and technical education programs - and other areas of the high school - when state Superintendent Tony Sanders came for a visit Friday.

School visits are a regular part of the job for Sanders, who works for the Illinois State Board of Education and splits his time between its Springfield and Chicago offices.

"I try to spend one day a week in schools," he said. "Being in schools is the best part of my job."

The first stop was in the technology support internship classroom led by teacher Ben Kallal, where students run the help desk for Chromebooks and other technology issues at Central. One pair of students was working on swapping out a motherboard and daughterboard to repair a broken keyboard.

"Can you do that with my two phones?" Sanders asked.

"That is a little more complicated," responded student Luke Korbus, who told Sanders he plans to be an engineer.

Sanders also chatted with students performing a screen swap and learned students can become certified in various programs, like Microsoft Excel.

"This is unique," Sanders said. "I've not seen a program like this."

Central Principal Bill Walsh, who led the tour, said the help desk serves an important function.

"When you go to all Chromebooks, you need a place to get them fixed," he said.

The next stop was in the pre-engineering class taught by Jon Schmidt, where junior Meiyan Zhu of Hinsdale talked to Sanders about why she enjoys the course.

"I told him I was a little bit older than most people in the class, because most people that take pre-engineering are freshmen or sophomores," she told The Hinsdalean Monday, noting that she exemplifies the idea that the course is for everybody.

"It is an opportunity for students of all grade levels to explore engineering and figure out if this is a path they want to take," she said. "It is a lot of fun. I was a little nervous about joining. I found it to be a really fun course ­- and I'm doing pretty well at it, too."

The technical education space in the school's basement, including the pre-engineering computer lab and the maker space/woods area, was completely gutted and redesigned as part of the $139.8 million Future Ready Facilities referendum District 86 voters approved in 2019.

Sanders' final tour stop was in the band room where students, led by instructor Matt Kurinsky, performed a portion of the "Screaming Eagles March."

Among the school leaders who accompanied Sanders on the tour was District 86 board President Cat Greenspon. Greenspon had invited Sanders to visit the district when she met him at a conference.

"All I wanted was for our kids and our teachers to be showcased," she said.

Walsh said it was a nice surprise when he learned Sanders was coming.

"We're proud of our curriculum, we're proud of our teachers and we're proud of our students," Walsh said. "I was excited to showcase that to Dr. Sanders.

He praised Sanders for spending time with the students.

"He sat down with the kids, engaged with the kids," Walsh said. "I just felt like it was not for him to just look and see - he wanted to learn what was going on. That was very enjoyable."

On the way out, Sanders had a chance to walk through what Walsh calls the "Grant Street Plaza." Sanders couldn't help but notice the full wall of trophies that line the north side of the hallway.

"We have our 120 state trophies. New Trier has a few more than us, but we don't really recognize the North Shore," Walsh quipped.

When asked what he thought of the school, Sanders said Central is impressive.

"It was amazing, the work that they're doing," he said. "What I loved the most was all the students were engaged in learning that was really high taxonomy level. They were doing work that was at least comprehension level or higher, which is what we want to see in our schools.

"Beyond that, just watching the relationships between the adults and the students was really incredible," he added. "It's a really special place."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean