HAMPSHIRE – Fred Heid spent a whirlwind summer moving from his home state of Florida to the Carpentersville area to spearhead the future direction of District 300.
The district’s newest leader recently ushered in a new school year and moved his family into a home in Sleepy Hollow after spending weeks at the Extended Stay hotel in Elgin.
The former academic chief at Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, said the new year at District 300 will be focused on academic achievement, as staff, teachers and students fully transition to the rigorous Common Core standards for the first time.
Heid sat down with reporter Stephen Di Benedetto earlier this summer at his temporary office in Hampshire High School to talk about his move and future plans for the district.
Di Benedetto: You went from warm, sunny temperatures to the possibility of living through a polar vortex. Why make the move from Florida to the Carpentersville area?
Heid: Good question. Illinois has similar systems to Florida – accountability and assessment systems – so there is a comfort coming here with the background I have. I love the community. I wanted to professionally go to a place where I still could stay connected to teaching every day. In a large district, it’s very hard, and I’m not willing to give that up yet. ... I still love teaching and learning, and I wanted to stay connected to it. It’s a perfect sized district for me.
I’ll trade 90-degree weather, 100-percent humidity and the threat of a hurricane or tropical storm for some cold weather. That’s my trade off. Having been in Florida my whole life, I’m excited for the opportunity of going into a new state. To come to another state that is trying to be transformative, it’s an exciting time to be here.
Di Benedetto: What has the district done well from what you’ve seen so far?
Heid: The district over the last several years has resolved its financial crisis. We went from an operating deficit to being in a strong position moving forward. We break even financially.
By no means do we have a slush fund. I think some of that is related to how Illinois funds schools. ... One of the other things I’m pleased to see is that we have one of the lower tax brackets. I think that makes our community more attractive. ... I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to see the state of our school buildings. They are well-maintained. They’re clean. Custodians and administrators work really well here, but there’s such pride in our schools that you can see.
I’ve also been pleased with how open the district has been, whether its my administrative team or even school principals and teachers. They’re willingness to speak openly about what we are doing well and what areas they would like to see improvement is important.
Di Benedetto: What does the district need to improve on?
Heid: With the changes in the state level cut scores and preparation for our transition to the Common Core, the last two years we are going to see a downward trend. As the state points out, that’s not a reflection on a school district. It’s just what the scores may look like when we transition to the Common Core. That’s all well and good. We now have done that for two years, but now it’s time for that data to start trending upward. I have concerns about the uncertainty of the exam and what it might look like. I know we field-tested some pieces, but we don’t really get the data back.
I have some concerns about the status of our technology in classrooms. All of our schools have smart boards, and principals are proud that teachers use them at high level and not just as glorified overhead projectors. But we don’t have enough classroom computers. ... We have core curriculum materials, but we haven’t necessarily adopted computer-based supplements that will reinforce skills with kids. Our teachers need that.
Di Benedetto: When they announced you as the new superintendent, the board noted that you are bilingual and half-Hispanic. How did your upbringing influence you?
Heid: My mom was born and raised in Colombia. My grandfather owned some tailor companies in Colombia and sent my grandmother and mom to the states, so my mom could be educated here. ... Growing up in Miami, you are surrounded by diversity. I grew up in Kendall, a huge infusion of Hispanic, Haitian, Creole students. The school system there embraced diversity from the get-go. I grew up in it. My professional background, I have always worked with at-risk populations ... I don’t know if I have an advantage here with my background, in as much as I at least have an understanding of what diversity looks like in a school system.
Di Benedetto: Teacher contract negotiations are on the horizon. The last one resulted in a one-day strike over class sizes. Are teachers going to be walking the picket lines again?
Heid: My goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen. We’ve resolved the class size issues, and there’s always the give-and-take when you go through collective bargaining. We are embracing the interest-based bargaining process. ... That expedites the conversation and prevents it from becoming a battlefield quite honestly. I know for a fact that’s what our teachers’ union wants.
Teachers want to be respected and compensated fairly. That’s a goal that I have, but we do have to operate within our fiscal constraints. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s a good opportunity to put my fingerprint on some things.