Incoming super sets his first assignment

Lach identifies four questions he will try to answer as he begins work July 1 in District 86

After spending 21 days in the district and holding meetings with more than 200 parents, staff, students, board members, administrators and community members, incoming Superintendent Michael Lach explained the approach that will guide him when he begins work full-time July 1.

“I kept coming back to four questions — questions that I had, but questions I think we all need to tackle together,” Lach said during a presentation at the May 30 school board meeting.

The questions center around four topics: passion, trust, organization and goals.

His first question: “How do we leverage our passion for D86 to benefit the most students?”

Lach said he’s heard many times how proud people are to be part of the district.

“People really feel great here. The faculty truly care. They give their all to everyone,” he said. “There’s tons of passion here.”

His second question: “How can we build trusting, respectful, gracious and collaborative relationships?”

Lach also reported hearing from people who are hurting, who long for productive dialogue, who feel intimidated and who fear retaliation.

“I’m not just talking about parents,” he said. “I’m talking about teachers telling me they worry about that, too.”

His third question: “To what extent are we a school system? A system of schools?”

“I keep seeing tensions about this come up,” Lach said. “I don’t have an answer, but it feels like something we need to talk about as a group and start to figure out.”

He said he’s talked with teachers who are unclear about what alignment means, people who want to ensure students at South have the same opportunities as those at Central and vice versa, and those who believe equity means students get what they need and the two schools don’t need to be the same.

“I’ve heard people say it seems we’re loose on our goals but really tight on our means, which tells me that maybe our organization isn’t quite set up right,” he said.

His fourth question: “What are we striving toward?”

People have cited the district’s strategic plan (which is about to expire), the lack of measurability of some district goals, the need to focus on academic excellence and concerns that the curriculum is being watered down, Lach said.

“I looked at some data and said, ‘Well, students are voting with their feet.’ They’re not choosing our most rigorous courses,” he said. “There seems to be a little bit of a disconnect there. We have to figure out what we want for our kids given that context.”

Lach said he wants to spend the new few months getting answers to those questions or at least identifying pathways to get the answers.

“I hope you come along with me to figure that out,” he said.

Lach also made four commitments as he begins his work.

1. Students will be at the center.

“Schools are complicated, messy organizations with traditions and routines and context that are complicated,” he said. “When we talk, when we strategize, when we make recommendations, when we suggest paths, we have to have students at the center.”

2. He will be driving.

“We’ll together have to figure out what the map is, where we’re going, and there’s going to be a lot of people along the way, but I’m going to do the driving,” he said.

3. He will go slow to go fast.

“I’m not going to drive real fast,” he said. “I think we have to go slow for a few months — maybe more than a few months — so we can go fast.”

4. He will keep listening and learning.

“Please send me a note,” he said. “I’m happy to sit down and talk with any of you. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m real excited to be here.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean