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District 113 is currently in the process of identifying and prioritizing the facility-technology needs at Deerfield and Highland Park high schools. In January, a community-wide survey was released to determine what matters most to residents when it comes to an improvement plan. 3,396 responses were received. On Thursday, the results were presented to District 113’s market research study group by Marci Cohen.

“I am very satisfied and encouraged by the number of responses,” Cohen said and mentioned the initial goal was to get 2,000.

Cohen has been running a Chicago market research company with her husband since 1983. Her family lives in Highland Park. Cohen has one daughter enrolled at HPHS and another who graduated in 1998. In May, Cohen volunteered for one of District 113’s six study groups. She was placed on the market research team, which is made up of individuals with expertise in the field. The group was tasked with constructing a survey that collected and analyzed residents’ thoughts on District 113’s future plans for both high schools.

Once responses were received, the reliability of those replies were checked using several different methods. “We have pretty high integrity in the survey,” Cohen said. “The validation resulted in very few disqualifications.”

Cohen also highlighted the quality of the responses. “There was a lot of differentiation between what was important and not important,” she said. “That means people were thoughtful and careful in answering the survey.”

According to Cohen, survey results indicate the community is open to District 113 developing a new facility-technology plan. Residents want it to focus on what is needed and required, eliminating things in the “nice to have” category. “However, they will consider more than just the basics,” she said. Cohen stated survey results also indicate the community is open to considering a referendum requesting funds for improvements.

First and foremost, residents want to see an ongoing program of repair and maintenance.

“Whether we think we have that program in place or if we didn’t have that before and are developing it now, it’s very important to let the community know more about it,” Cohen said.

High priorities include air conditioning, quality lighting, and safety requirements.

Residents were also questioned about the 1914 buildings at Highland Park High School. “They want the buildings to be renovated in a way that makes economic sense,” Cohen said. Results show the community does not want to tear the buildings down unless it is absolutely necessary and hope renovations made can last for at least 25-years.

Cohen also told the market research team that the community considers technology to be crucial to a school’s success and status, “The idea that we should perhaps leave technology alone because it could be obsolete in five-to-ten years is not the approach the community wants to take,” she said. “Keeping up with technology is very important.”

Providing wireless internet at both high schools was significant for respondents. District 113 is already in the process of upgrading its wireless network at DHS and HPHS. The final installation is currently underway. Funding for the project is coming from the District’s technology budget. Upon completion, the network will be able to power 10,000 simultaneous wireless connections in the District. 

The survey asked residents to rate 37 school criteria.

“The single most important criterion to the community is the quality of our teachers,” Cohen said. Residents perceive that our schools provide a high level of student satisfaction and engagement and do a good job of preparing graduates for college. “As we develop a plan, anything that will help teachers do a better job should be important,” she said.

In the survey, some community members raise concerns about their property taxes. “Many believe that property taxes are not as reasonable here as they are in other communities,” Cohen said. “I think that you [District 113] need to be very clear, upfront, and upright on how any requested funds would affect property taxes.”

“Thank you for all the work you’ve done and all of the time you’re volunteering,” District 113 Superintendent George Fornero told Cohen and other market research team members at the end of Thursday’s meeting. The Board of Education originally rejected the idea of hiring an independent firm to complete the research because estimated costs ranged up to $100,000 for quantitative and qualitative work. In an effort to save money, the Board suggested the District look for experts in the community. “We couldn’t have afforded any of this research,” Fornero added. 

Cohen’s presentation about the survey results is available on the District’s website under the Market Research Minutes.