Student achievement and district finances topped the list of priorities for more study Tuesday as Naperville Community Unit School District 203 held its first Future Focus 203 community engagement meeting.
About 140 parents and community members attended the meeting, which included a report on the state of the district as well as discussions about participants' concerns and priorities.
Supt. Dan Bridges said the district was strong and cited several accolades. Its high schools are ranked in the top 3 percent in the country, 11 schools were recognized at least three consecutive years with Illinois Academic Excellence Awards, 31 students won National Merit Scholarships last year, the class of 2012 achieved an average ACT score of 25.3 percent and teachers continue to win awards.
But he said the district could do better and that community input would be critical as the district changes.
"Who we are is changing, what happens in our schools is changing, how we measure success is changing and the resources we will need are changing also," Bridges said. "As a result of these changes and in order for us to continually improve as a school district, now is a critical time for us as a community to discuss who we are, what we do and how we get it done."
Among those changes is an increase in minority and low-income students, reductions in state and federal funding and more stringent standards for students.
From a demographic standpoint, about 68.7 percent of students were white in 2012, compared with 83.9 percent in 2000, according to Bridges. During that time, the percentage of low-income students grew to 11.1 percent from 1.2 percent in 2000.
Speaking about the district's test scores, Jennifer Hester, associate superintendent for learning services, said the number of elementary and middle school students meeting or exceeding standards had been between 93 percent and 95 percent since 2006 and was up from the early 2000s.
But among high school students, about 78 to 80 percent had been meeting or exceeding standards over the last five years, down compared with the early 2000s.
Hester said the district had some "pretty significant achievement gaps" to overcome with some minority groups, special-education students, low-income students and English language learners. The district also is preparing to implement more stringent common-core standards, and students will be taking more challenging state assessments.
Participants in the meeting said they were surprised by the changing demographics and declining high school test scores, and many groups made student achievement their priority for additional study and discussion during upcoming Future Focus 203 meetings.
"Focus should be on the kids and why is there a gap and how do we close it," Pat Harrison said on behalf of his group.
Beth Miles' group also made student achievement a priority and said average students shouldn't be forgotten.
"Naperville is a very academically competitive environment," she said after the meeting. "By law we serve special education and by nature we serve AP and honor students, but what are we doing to nurture and program the success of those in the middle?"
Another topic that appeared on the priority lists was the district's finances. Chief Financial Officer Dave Zager told the group state and federal funding was declining, the district may soon have to take on teacher pension costs that had been paid by the state, and health care costs are expected to rise.
Parents and community members will look at issues like student performance and district finances in more depth during Future Focus 203 meetings that will continue into September. For more information, visit naperville203.org/community/FutureFocus.asp.