News and stuff about Lake Forest and Lake Bluff

Whole Foods Still In Play In Lake Forest

Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by Rommy Lopat of Lake Forest and was originally submitted as a comment on a previous GazeboNews article. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

Also, GazeboNews checked with Community Development Director Catherine Czerniak, who confirmed that Whole Foods is indeed still a possibility in Lake Forest; the city has not received a written withdrawal from the Shiner Group.



GazeboNews Reader Forum


By Rommy Lopat of Lake Forest

An update to the Whole Foods issue in Lake Forest: At the July 31 Lake Forest Plan Commission meeting, Community Development Director Cathy Czerniak stated that the “Conway Market/Whole Foods” shopping center is an “active petition” for two reasons: one, the City Council only proffered advice to the developer but did not vote and 2) the developer has not officially withdrawn. In fact, Czerniak said the developer is “in discussions”. She did not say with whom.

Having watched this process over many months, I continue to regret the City’s handling of the situation. Allowing any developer or property owner to contemplate the demolition of a landmarked house and clear cutting of 400 trees is unconscionable, not to mention cramming so much building onto a way too small space. (Imagine a Whole Foods, four single-story 6000 sq ft homes, and a 350 car parking lot in a space the exact size of Forest Park!).

The planning process is woefully inadequate. The Route 60 Corridor’s Comprehensive Plan needs updating, and the City Council needs to be apprised of what is in the plan. All of our “gateways” look sorrowful (thistles, weeds, buckthorn, construction debris) and need attention, but this one is arguably the most important to preserve in its greenness.

The Special Use that allowed an office building on the Whole Foods site should have been revoked long ago. (imagine if you got a permit to build a new house and garage. You build the house but not the garage, then sell the property, all of which happens years after the permit was granted. The new homeowner would have to get a new permit to build the garage, but in this case, the landowner apparently does not have to start from scratch. Why?) The problem is that the traffic and other studies compare the shopping center to an office center rather than to existing conditions, skewing the results significantly.

And needless to say, having two Plan Commissioners recuse themselves, making a quorum tougher to obtain, for the duration of the process is not fair to developer or public: a full panel of opinions is needed. And the Plan Commission has no one on it that is familiar with landscape or sustainability techniques (which would include keeping all stormwater on site as per LEED building standards).

Much needs to be and can be improved before this petition sees the light of day. Again.

Parade Was Impressive; People of Lake Bluff Even More So

Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by Al Boese of Lake Bluff. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

GazeboNews Reader Forum

Once again, Lake Bluff charms and amazes visitors …

Over this past weekend, we had numerous out of town family members visit us to celebrate our unique Lake Bluff 4th of July. And as part of the celebration, of course view our spectacular parade.

In all the excitement, our 10 year old grandson lost his i-Pad Touch on route to see the parade. The loss of a cherished electronic device and a frantic but futile search along the path to our viewing spot at a friend’s home, cast a pall of doom over the event and the outlook for the rest of the weekend for our grandson.

On Saturday morning, we called the Lake Bluff police station on the off chance some honest soul would have both found the i-Pad and turned it in, and to our delight, it was there. To our astonished visitors, this seemed extraordinary and totally unexpected. To us it was less so as village residents for over 20 years, we have come to expect such neighborly behavior. To our grandson, it was a thing of stunning joy.

Thanks Lake Bluff for maintaining the consistency and beauty of such unexpected outcomes in our beautiful community.

Al Boese, Lake Bluff

Note To Lake Forest: Say No To Amberley Retail Plan

Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by the Rommy Lopat of Lake Forest. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

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By Rommy Lopat

Bravo to Lake Forest Preservation Foundation, Lake Forest Open Lands, Lake Forest Academy Woods Homeowners, Conway Farms Homeowners, Stonebridge residents, and every other resident who attended the full-house Lake Forest Plan Commission meeting on June 11. I’ve attended a lot of City meetings, but this was the best-written testimony from different angles (all negative except for one positive) that I’ve ever heard.

The good news (sort of, maybe, not really) is that the Plan Commission expanded the setback of the retail buildings on this oak-woods parcel from the developer’s request of 25′ to 100′ along Route 60. The bad news is that the Comprehensive Plan says everyone is supposed to have a wooded 150′ setback and everyone on Route 60 except this petitioner has done that and more, creating a greenway from here to Vernon Hills. And this is the best piece of woods anywhere for miles. That greenbelt is now compromised if this passes the City Council.

While the language has changed so much in the last 24 hours that it is still not written (and therefore we the public had nothing to say about it), the Plan Commission had to push hard to get an assurance that a full Whole Foods would be the anchor tenant rather than “a grocery store offering products and services of a similar quality”. It appears that WF will now be required as the anchor, but if it ever moves out of the 46,000 sq ft building, a “retail business of a type found in first class commercial centers typically found on the North Shore” can come in. What those might be has not been disclosed, just like we don’t know what the other tenants are. So for those residents that have been urging LF to look the other way on all our ordinances because it’s “Whole Foods”, make sure you always read the fine print.

This is still too big a shopping center for this 8.5 acre site. There’s not even enough room to fit dumpsters for the restaurants or put landscaped islands in the parking lot (which does not have the spaces required by code). As for cutting down the heritage oaks and hickories, we will get 4 3″ hickories and 31 3″ oaks in replacement–but a whole lot of honeylocusts (18) and maples (which Open Lands doesn’t sell at its tree sale because LF Forestry says we have too many already in LF).

Here’s the sad thing: Lake Forest has an opportunity to innovate and instead it is just taking a typical shopping center design (drive thru coffee or prescription; drive thru bank) and jamming it in. Can’t we have revenue and creative, sustainable thinking? I bet if Open Lands, the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation, Landmarks Illinois, and all the residents got together, we could figure it out ourselves–and have a much better product!

Below is my testimony from last night, for what it was (or, actually, wasn’t) worth to the Plan Commission:

Rommy Lopat, Thank you, Commissioners. I submitted detailed, point by point, written comments regarding the Staff Recommendation earlier today. I trust you received it and I hope it is useful to your deliberations. [**If GazeboNews readers would like a copy, email me at

It seems to me that we have forgotten that the Shiner Group is not the owner of this land. The Michael Supera Family Limited Partnership along with a gentleman named Bernard Leviton own this property. As Chicago real estate developers themselves, they know precisely what they bought. They bought an 8.5 acre property with 400 mature oaks in a town known for its tree ordinance. They also bought a landmarked mansion in a town known for its historic preservation ordinance. They know it is in a Transitional Zoning District which requires certain uses, none of them retail. They also bought it knowing it has a special use permit that allowed two four-story office buildings but required on-site water detention and underground parking. The property is also subject to protections included in a fairly new Sub-Area Comprehensive Plan that stresses a 150′ setback from Route 60 plus the obligation to foster a greenway on what Lake Forest calls its western gateway. In addition, they bought it knowing their deed, like everyone else’s in town, included a rider that makes perfectly clear that Lake Forest has long-held principles regarding development. The rider even states, “buyer beware”. That is what they bought and that is what they must, for better or worse, contend with.

Like owners of investment property usually do, Mr. Supera’s FLP and Mr. Leviton found a commercial developer, The Shiner Group, willing to take a risk and find out if the residents of Lake Forest would buy into a very aggressive plan for a shopping center. This is totally acceptable behavior, of course. But hard as our staff has tried to accommodate Shiner in order to obtain more sales and property tax revenue for us residents, this shopping center literally does not fit on the site. It has to be shoe-horned into the site so “tight”, as the staff report repeatedly states, that it violates to an unacceptable degree just about everything we hold sacred in this town: historic preservation, heritage tree preservation, a green gateway the full length of Route 60, on-site water detention, and protecting neighbors from negative impacts. I can only imagine the residents on the west side of the next door condo, who purchased their home knowing it was part of a mid-rise residential and office development but were assured by City documents that there would be underground parking and the preservation of a beautiful oak woods. Now instead they could be looking at a fence, five retail operations, a service road for delivery trucks, and 348 parking spaces with lights all night long. That sounds like a reduction in their value, doesn’t it? Put simply, this is the wrong site for this large and intensive use.

You have a tough job in saying no to this. But as our Plan Commissioners, you are charged with “promoting the realization of our Comprehensive Plan and safeguarding the character of Lake Forest”. As such, in my opinion, you should deny this petition (or at least defer this decision) for amending the Special Use Permit. If you do so, the petitioner can come back in a year and ask again. But during that year, I would hope you would do four most-needed things:

  • First, the City should update and give more detail to its sub-area plan for Route 60 as it stretches from the Tollway to Route 41.
  • Second, the City should prepare a plan for improving the failed intersection at Saunders and Field Drive, which, as is obvious, this project can only exacerbate and which, if you approve buildings in the setback area as requested, could preclude some necessary improvements to the intersection and highway.
  • Third, the City should re-examine the underlying zoning of this parcel and of the description of the Transitional Zoning District in the Code. What does it mean to the existing Special Use if it was never implemented? Has it expired? Is retail allowed in a Transitional Zoning District—It seems to me that the Code says it is not. It also appears that this parcel is supposed to be treated as residential at this point. Clarification of these issues as part of your packet of materials would be useful before the City Council considers this petition and perhaps any others.
  • Fourth, the City should insure that the owners of the landmarked house are maintaining it adequately so that they cannot make the future claim that it is financially infeasible to keep and must be demolished.

I believe due diligence by the Shiner Group was sorely lacking for some reason. Did they get the impression that clear-cutting 400 trees, demolishing a landmark, reducing the setbacks ridiculously, and negatively impacting neighbors would be a slam dunk in Lake Forest because of two little words, “Whole Foods”? (I note that Condition #2 now unfortunately reads that “another grocery store of similar quality” will suffice so are we getting Whole Foods or not?) That said, there likely is a better project in here someplace if we insist on meeting all the coda of the Zoning, Tree, Historic Preservation, Building, Comprehensive Plan, Stormwater and other of our existing code chapters. I hope you find a way to say, “Here are the codes: make it work” to the owners and their representatives. And to any residents who have doubts, there will be a next petitioner or a better petition, perhaps by Shiner itself.

This is a great location and in general, while we want to protect our existing businesses and shopping centers, such as Market Square and the shops on Waukegan Road and Western Avenue, we have a very willing-to-listen community for development proposals. But in all cases we should respect and follow our own rules with only minimum variations. That is what keeps decision-making fair for everyone, now and in the future.

Preservation Foundation: Amberley Retail In Opposition To Lake Forest Planning

Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

GazeboNews Reader Forum

A request for Special Use now before City boards and commissions will soon be presented for approval/disapproval. While Lake Forest Preservation Foundation is neither against development nor in opposition to the tenant named in this project (Whole Foods), the proposal requires significant compromises within the planning history that defines Lake Forest. The summary below highlights some of the project’s requests and their relationship to established requirements of the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code.

Amberley Woods Conway Market

• Reduce required 150-foot setback: The petitioner proposes a setback less than half the requirement. The Comprehensive Plan defines a 150-foot setback for the Rt. 60 corridor and states that “all future develop(ers) shall landscape their front 150 feet….” This requirement is in force for all property east of the Tollway. The Zoning Code Section 46-24—Special Uses requires: “Special uses proposed for any area with the TD Transitional District shall be consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan, with consideration to the natural features on, and development adjacent to, the property.” The Zoning Code Section 46-53.5 (H)(3) requires: “Any approval may be with conditions, but it shall be recommended only upon findings that: ….(c) The proposed development is consistent with the general intent of the Comprehensive Plan, with consideration to the natural features on, development adjacent to, and the ingress to and egress from, the property.”

• Demolish, rather than adaptively re-use, the Miller Estate House: The petitioner has presented no study to demonstrate that the house cannot be adaptively reused. His historic resource assessment states: “It is our conclusion that the house with its connected coach house … should be preserved, rehabilitated and integrated into any development … on the site.” The Comprehensive Plan states that development here should be “based on a development plan which is consistent with … adaptive reuse of the Miller estate house.” The petitioner’s request for demolition must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission to determine whether the building is re-useable. The burden of proof is the petitioner’s, and requires demonstration of the need for demolition. A position paper on this proposal may be read at

Points to Ponder: When change is considered, why not step back and assess its long-range impact? Does the proposal comply with legislative goals developed and followed over the past 150 years? Does it set a new precedent, or have potentially irreversible consequences? Does it take Lake Forest one step closer to being “just like everywhere else”?

The Petition to approve these changes will be discussed at the Plan Commission meeting, Wednesday June 11th, 6:30 PM, Lake Forest City Hall.

LFHS Board Should Seek Expertise and Insight for Board Role

Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by  Hannah Emmanuele of  Lake Forest. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

GazeboNews Reader Forum


By Hannah Emmanuele

​​At the May 13 Lake Forest High School (LFHS) Board of Education meeting, Board President Todd Burgener described his plan to expedite filling the one-year vacancy left by Monty Edson’s sudden resignation. The Board may want to consider clicking the “refresh” button on the approach he outlined.

Mr. Burgener said an Ad Hoc Board Committee consisting of himself, Dick Block, and Nicki Snoblin will interview qualified applicants and recommend their final choice to the remaining Board members for approval. While Mr. Block and Mrs. Snoblin have only one year left in their Board service, they are tasked to select someone for the others to work with presumably for years to come.

This is the first known instance of any School Board President on the North Shore handpicking a group to select a new Board member, rather than involving the entire Board in interviewing a pool of qualified candidates and then deciding as a team who would best fit the Board’s needs. It’s also an unusual move for a President to appoint him/herself to a Board advisory committee.

During the meeting (video beginning at 51:40), Mr. Burgener said the Board is “interested in seating someone of a high standard of quality who has longer term ambitions to serve” and that “past volunteerism and experience with District Committees” will be viewed “more favorably or given preference.” Mr. Burgener reasoned the Board would benefit from “someone who is up the curve a good way” and who could “ascend that learning curve more quickly,” although six of the seven 2013-14 Board members had no prior LFHS Board Committee experience when they originally joined the Board.

The Board’s press release states the Board would like to have “as open a selection process as possible” However, Mr. Burgener’s criteria appears to artificially and substantially narrow the potential competitive field.

Burgener did not say whether the Board had developed a profile of traits that would contribute to a well-rounded, diverse Board. He did not identify any gaps or weaknesses in terms of expertise, experience or diversity in the current Board composition. Nor did he mention the type of professional experience the Board might need in light of the considerable new challenges and strategic priorities the Board faces in steering the schools into the future. Instead, Mr. Burgener focused on familiarity and experience with District Committees as his overriding interest.

The entire community owes a great deal to all those who volunteer considerable time and effort often over many years to serve on school boards. And without doubt, leading these days is not for the faint of heart.

At the same time, the LFHS Board has a duty to own the planning of its own future, and, within the constraints of ethics and law, to articulate and cultivate a School Board composition that supports the needs of the district’s current and future strategic priorities. The Board also has a fiduciary duty always to act in the best interests of the Board and school district as a whole rather than any external or individual interest.

As the saying goes, “The smartest person in the room is the room,” so why not fill the Boardroom with people who bring breadth of experience and talent and whose professional profile and insights are aligned with upcoming strategic priorities? Isn’t that what the students and the LFHS community expect and deserve?

Later during the same meeting, Mr. Burgener evoked Grace Hopper’s famous quote “That’s the way we’ve always done it” and implored the administration and teachers to “Be willing to change.” Sitting atop the organizational chart with ultimate authority, shouldn’t the LFHS Board be willing to change also?

Reader Forum: Tax Reform for Illinois

Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by Jane Partridge, Co-President, League of Women Voters – Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

GazeboNews Reader Forum


By Jane Partridge, Co-President, League of Women Voters – Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area

The fight for a fair tax in Illinois is gaining momentum, thanks to a groundswell of support from small business owners, service providers, people of faith, taxpayers, and legislators.

They know that cuts of $2 billion this fiscal year and $5 billion the next without further budget cuts to public safety, education, and other critical social services are both untenable and unsustainable.

They know that Illinois families cannot afford the higher property taxes that might be necessary to fund Illinois’ essential services.

They know that Illinois must meet its fiscal responsibilities, and at the same time be equitable to Illinois’ families, by creating a tax structure where all taxpayers would pay their fair share. The result would help boost local economies and grow jobs.

They know that a fair tax is what Illinois needs.

State Senator Don Harmon has filed an amendment to the Illinois Constitution which, if passed, would produce the stable and sustainable revenue required to provide critical public and social services in Illinois, including education, public safety and health care.

As part of his proposal, Senator Harmon has introduced a rate schedule to provide a tax break to the 94% of Illinois taxpayers earning under $205,000. This rate schedule proposes 3 tax rates:

  • 2.9% on the first $12,500 of one’s taxable income
  • 4.9% on the next $167,500 of one’s income (up to $180,000)
  • 6.9% on any income above $180,000.

Go to to calculate your own tax rate.

The Illinois General Assembly is taking a recess until Tuesday, April 29; take the time to contact your state legislators and let them know that Illinois voters deserve the opportunity to vote in November on the proposed Illinois Constitutional Amendment, and that a fair tax is right for Illinois families.

Jane Partridge, Co-President
League of Women Voters – Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area

What You Should Know About the Route 60 Whole Foods Development Proposal

Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by the Board of Directors of the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

GazeboNews Reader Forum


The Board of Directors of the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation has followed closely the ongoing review of the Special Use petition for the property at the corner of Rt. 60 and Saunders Road, commonly referred to as the “Whole Foods” development. This petition has recently been presented for a Special Use Permit at the Plan Commission and for architectural and landscape review at the Building Review Board.

Misinformation and confusion about the underlying requirements of this special use petition have been apparent at the hearings and in ongoing public commentary. Our Board of Directors has in-depth knowledge of the City’s regulations because many of us have served on City boards, the City Council, or as architects working with these regulations. Many residents may not have had this type of experience and may not be as familiar with local governmental codes and procedures. As this petition involves issues related to historic preservation, we want to share our understanding of the issues with the community. We strongly believe that Lake Forest’s Comprehensive Plan, careful attention to details of subdivision, stewardship of quality architecture and landscaping, and defined commitment to preserving our community’s historic buildings and landscape heritage are what make this a very special community of distinction.

First, it is important to understand that the petition for Special Use before the Plan Commission and Building Review Board is not about whether Whole Foods will be allowed to come to Lake Forest. Whole Foods is the proposed anchor tenant in a proposed commercial development. The issue before the City is not “Whole Foods” or “no Whole Foods.” The issue is whether the commercial developer and owner of the property will be granted a special use permit that allows changes from the “Comprehensive Plan Amendment for the Rt. 60 Sub-Area” of Lake Forest adopted by the City Council June 4, 2001, as well as the requirements set forth in the approved subdivision agreement for the subject property. Both documents are City-approved plans for the vision of the Rt. 60 corridor. Further the Zoning Code, Section 46-53-5 Transitional District, specifically references consistency with the Comprehensive Plan Amendment for the Rt. 60 Sub-Area.

What does the “Comprehensive Plan for the Rt. 60 Sub-Area” recommend (see quotes below)? What is the developer asking to be changed?

1. “Enhance Route 60 as the western gateway into Lake Forest.” The developer asks to place small clapboard structures within the front 20% of the 150-foot setback established by the Comprehensive Plan and the subdivision requirements, in stark contrast to the rest of the Rt. 60 western gateway to Lake Forest which maintains the setback.

2. “Enhance Conway Park as a world-class corporate park.” In contrast to Conway Park’s image as a world-class corporate park, the developer asks to place small shed-like structures up close to the road in violation of requirements established by the City.

3. “Enhance and preserve significant tree stands, wetlands, and water views.” The developer asks to remove over 300 mature trees.

4. “Continue improving the frontage along both sides of the roadway (150 feet north/south of right-of-way) with landscaping, and other design features to create a greenway/gateway setting.” The developer asks to reduce the 150 feet to 25 feet, less even than Vernon Hills has in its Rt. 60 development. The developer asks to remove trees within the required setback area. All others who have developed along Rt. 60 have complied with the 150-foot setback and landscape requirement, setting a precedent for compliance on this final undeveloped parcel facing Rt. 60.

5. “The landscaped greenway/gateway should extend along Route 60 from the Tollway to Waukegan Road. A comprehensive plan for this area shall be developed and all future development shall landscape their front 150 feet in accordance with said plan.”  The developer’s petition removes over 300 mature trees and requests a 25-foot setback. Most of the required 150-foot setback will be paved with the developer’s parking lot. All others who have developed along Rt. 60 have complied with the 150-foot setback, setting a precedent for compliance on this final undeveloped parcel facing Rt. 60.

6. Specifically, regarding the parcel in question:

  • “Moderate density low-rise residential with a range of housing product types that preserves significant tree stands, preserves the site’s overall wooded character, and links to the future residential neighborhood to the east.” The developer asks to remove over 300 mature trees, destroying the “wooded character” of the site.
  • “Adaptive re-use of the Miller estate house.” This provision also is a condition of the approval for subdivision of the property, which also includes reuse of the surrounding mature landscape. The developer asks to demolish the Miller estate house (also known as the Everitt House and/or “the old mansion.”), which received one of the City’s highest honors by being designated a landmark by the City in 2006.
  • The developer also asks to remove the estate’s entry landscape created by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, who also designed the landscape of the J. Ogden Armour estate, an adaptively re-used estate across Rt. 60 on the north side, which sets a preservation precedent in its adaptive re-use as Lake Forest Academy.

If a special use is recommended by the Plan Commission under these conditions, the Historic Preservation Commission will be required to review the request for demolition of the landmarked manor house to determine whether the building is re-useable or not. The burden of proof is the responsibility of the petitioner. The developer and property owner to date have provided no evidence that the building cannot be adaptively re-used and, in fact, have chosen to ignore the City’s designation report and an additional report that they commissioned which documents the quality and distinction of the manor house, its auxiliary structures, and its landscape.

Note that there also are aesthetic issues under review for this project, relating to the developer’s plans for architectural design, building materials, and landscape and hardscape design, which are being addressed by the Building Review Board. The Board at its last meeting requested revision of these and other plans for the project to help ensure that it is more compatible with the design and materials used at neighboring properties, which set an architectural and landscape precedent for the visual appearance of the Rt. 60 gateway to Lake Forest.

Reader Forum: Whole Foods Is Not Lake Forest

Editor’s note: Lake Forest resident Lee Enz sent the following to Third Ward Alderman Jack Reisenberg on April 6 and also shared it with the GazeboNews Reader Forum. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

GazeboNews Reader Forum
To 3rd Ward Alderman Jack Reisenberg:

At the 3rd Ward meeting, Thursday, April 3rd, you said several times that “Whole Foods is Lake Forest.” We believe that the Landmark Mansion in Amberley Woods is far more representative of the City of Lake Forest.

Lake Forest is recognized as one of the premier communities in the United States. As such, it has always taken pride in its trees and historic preservation. We should not have a Big Box shopping center as its western gateway.

In all due respect, shouldn’t you reconsider your statement? West Lake Forest should have an opportunity to preserve its history just as other parts of the city have done.

The Everitt House, aka "the old mansion," at Amberley Woods in Lake Forest.

The Everitt House, aka “the old mansion,” at Amberley Woods in Lake Forest.

Letter from Uganda: Jiggers, Malaria and Typhoid

Editor’s note: Allison Godwin Neumeister travels to Uganda twice annually to distribute aid and partner with organizations that support the health and education of children in Uganda. Allison shares her stories with GazeboNews in a series of personal letters about her time in Uganda.


Today, a little friend came to me with pain in his foot. The 3-year-old boy, Waleka, had jiggers in his feet, also known as Chigoe fleas. His mother said she had removed a jigger two weeks ago. Villagers are skilled at removing jiggers from children’s feet, but not so skilled at using clean blades or needles. As a result, Waleka developed an infection, and his foot was swelling.


You can usually identify a child with jiggers because they walk on their heals. The health clinic sees many of these cases, and children often lose toes due to untreated infections. We urge parents to take kids to the clinic for all open wounds. Second to GI problems, secondary skin infections are the most common complaint we see at the clinic.

It’s no surprise. Everything is pretty run-down here, and we frequently get poked by sharp metal objects — exposed metal barbs in vehicles and window frames, passing motorbikes with broken projecting mirrors and the sharp edges of hoes and machetes. Cuts, scrapes and burns occur almost daily, and cleaning with soap and water isn’t a common first aid practice. Now that I’ve run out of alcohol and antiseptic, I’ve resorted to passing out hand sanitizer to families for superficial wound treatment to reduce the risk of infection.

Treating a jigger infection

Treating a jigger infection

While attending to Waleka’s feet, another boy, 15-year-old Kaliba, showed up, having just arrived from a long journey home from his boarding school. The school sent the boy home after two weeks of fever, flu, headache and aches. The trip home, in a hot and crowded matatu, must have been terrible for Kaliba, who was nauseated and vomiting. Then, of course, there’s the long hike up the slope to add to the boys’ misery.

When Kaliba initially developed symptoms at school, the hostel patron (R.A.) suspected malaria, but children are frequently misdiagnosed because schools generally don’t have health services or testing facilities. Any time a child complains of a fever and headache, villagers insist, “It must be malaria!” As a result, malaria meds are overprescribed and can do more harm than good.

State school "sickbay"

State school “sickbay”

Like most kids, Kaliba was given malaria pills, which didn’t help. If it’s not malaria, it’s tough to get a diagnosis unless you have access to a private hospital or large clinic.

Kaliba’s symptoms also indicated typhoid, and I was directed to the local public hospital and told to ask for Amin. Amin has a side job. He administers unauthorized tests at the hospital. The hospital doesn’t test for typhoid — no budget for it — but Amin buys kits off the street and networks through his colleagues for business.

Amin is no different than other hospital personnel. The hospital doesn’t pay well, so medical staff set up private clinics (sometimes in their homes) to earn additional income. As patients arrive at the hospital, these bootleg doctors often direct patients to their home clinics for “personal care.” This care ranges from home circumcisions to abortions, regardless of the health provider’s qualifications or skills. Tragically, many of these procedures are botched, and the very staff that undertook the procedure at their home is the same staff member that later attends to the patient in the emergency ward.

Water sanitation lesson

Water sanitation lesson

Kaliba is now on an antibiotic for typhoid and is improving each day. The real tragedy, however, is that once Kaliba recovers, he will return to boarding school, where students continue drinking contaminated water, the cause of his typhoid to begin with. Apparently, many large schools don’t have the infrastructure to provide clean drinking water. The best alternative is to “lack,” which means to go without.

Discussing Aquasafe  water purification tablets.

Discussing Aquasafe
water purification tablets.

Bad water is a pervasive problem at boarding schools throughout much of East Africa. The most vulnerable students are primary school students, who have the poorest recovery rate. In Kaliba’s case, all I could do was to send him to school with my small personal stash of Aquasafe tablets and suggest that his father buy him bottled water, though I doubt bottled water is in the family budget.

One could argue that at least Kaliba’s school has water. That’s more than I can say for the public hospital where I brought him for his test. While we were waiting for the test results, I searched every bathroom for running water and there was none to be found in the entire hospital.


Texting while carrying charcoal...

Texting while carrying charcoal…

D-67 Parents: It’s Time To Stop Labeling Our Kids

Editor’s note: Lake Forest District 67 School Board member Mike Borkowski prepared the following for the board’s meeting on March 18. He shared it with the Reader Forum at the request of GazeboNews. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.

GazeboNews Reader Forum

District 67 Board of Education
March 18, 2014
Mike Borkowski

Topic: World Language Program

Good evening. First, I want to thank each of you for being here tonight. I know many of you representing both sides of this issue, some of you for many years. Some of you – again representing both sides – I consider close friends, while others I am happy to be meeting for the first time. And some of you I don’t know at all, but I care about what you think, too.

Some of you will made statements tonight, some of you did not not. But all of you have one thing in common –you are here because you care. Thank you for that.

The fact that you care about your schools and your children’s education is a wonderful thing. Amidst the turmoil and the different perspectives, I celebrate that. We have an engaged community that cares about education. Even when the debate turns ugly – and it has a few times – I still take great joy in that.

I try to be careful not to speak for other Board members at these meetings as I am only one of seven Board members. But when I say I am trying my best to listen to each and every person, I am confident that is true for all of us. I am attempting to respond to every email sent to me…and I’ve received a few…hundred. I may not be perfect, but I do read them all. And I will continue to try my best to listen to each one of you and understand your concerns.

I want to share a little background about my personal situation, then a little about what I think I’ve heard from you, and finally a little on where I am at on this issue.

I have two third graders at Cherokee. When I am asked about them – which happens almost daily – that is what I say, that I have two third graders. I don’t introduce myself as the parent of two Mandarin or non-Mandarin kids, just as I also don’t say have a kid in the gifted program or in spc ed. I simply have two third graders. I’ve received strange looks – sometimes angry looks – for sticking to that answer…it seems that the standard introduction process at Cherokee has changed to now include whether our kids are in this program or not. But I don’t think labeling is healthy, so I don’t do it. I encourage each and every one of you to consider that, since labeling has nothing to do with our kids receiving world language instruction. We label to point out our differences; our common ground is that we all have students that we care about. Because of my refusal to label, perhaps also combined with the fact that my kids are not in the program, there are some people that feel I am against the program. Unfortunately, my relationships with some of you have even been negatively affected, and that is sad.

The division in our community becomes especially sad when people label and/or make assumptions about each other that are incorrect. I ran an election campaign for this position and one of my core values was transparency. I am painfully aware that some folks now think I’m not being transparent. As I wrote in a recent email “this situation isn’t about a lack of transparency, rather it’s a lack of a good answer.” I know some of you feel differently, so I’m thankful to have an opportunity to share with you where my head is at.

Here is some quick interesting background that most of you don’t know about me – although my kids currently are not enrolled in the Mandarin program, my kids actually started their world language education long before District 67 introduced this partial immersion program. My kids attended Language Stars and took Spanish Immersion classes starting at age 2 – actually my daughter was 17 months old when she started. When my kids were old enough to enter school, I wrote a home-school type curriculum and had our babysitter – who was fluent in Spanish – continue to provide language instruction to our kids. My wife and I considered throwing a third language at our kids when D67 announced this program in 2011, but we decided two languages was enough at that time. My point with this story is that I clearly do believe in early exposure to world language. However, some people look at my kids not being in the program and assume the opposite about me. If we all walk away tonight with a little better understanding of each other, then we will have taken a valuable step forward.

So what have I heard the community say on this topic? Clearly, a variety of opinions exist:
➢ Many parents with children in the program love it – and that is a fantastic thing
o These parents don’t want the program changed in a major way – they love it just the way it is
o They want it to start as early as possible – meaning Kindergarten – and will address that specifically in a minute
o They don’t want to lose minutes per day of language instruction
o Many of them feel additional choice of language would be nice, with Spanish being named by a majority of this group

➢ I’ve also heard from some parents in the program that feel its OK, but perhaps not as great as is advertised. Perhaps the content being taught could be improved. They are correct.

➢ I’ve also heard from many parents with children not in the program who are not thrilled with some of the unintended consequences that the program has had
o Some of these unintended consequences are parent driven
o Others are structure driven
o Very few, if any, are created or driven by the children … although most of them affect the children

➢ I’ve also heard from parents expressing a desire to keep their neighborhood schools – I’ve actually heard this from parents at all three elem schools, not just CH. This is a district issue, not a CH issue.

➢ So there are a lot of different perspectives – and none of them are wrong. On the contrary, every single one of them is valid and has great meaning.

The challenge, of course, is how to find a solution where those differing perspectives can not only coexist, but can thrive.

So after listening to everyone as best as I can – and after living in the program for the past three years – what do I actually think? How do I plan to use my vote? Well, its important to note that the Admin has the job of developing a recommendation, then the Board supports it or sends it back to the drawing board. But I will share some of my thoughts…so the community and the admin both know what is in my head.

First point I’ll make: one thing I notice when I look at everyone’s feedback is very few people are against world language. Most folks that I heard from that are unhappy with the current situation don’t talk about world language being the problem, they talk about the structure and the unintended consequences. They also talk about equity. But they generally don’t say world language is a bad subject to teach our kids. I think that is an important point when trying to develop a solution. That gives me hope that maybe there is a solution.

My next point is about equity. And equity, in my view, is one of the major issues we are dealing with. I am searching for a solution that provides an exceptional educational experience for each and every student – not just at Cherokee, but across the district. After the Mandarin parent meeting a couple weeks ago, I stayed around until the bitter end and I discussed this issue with a handful of you. And I would summarize the very valid concerns I heard on this topic from the pro-Mandarin group like this: one approach to equity is to dumb down the curriculum so everyone is equal. I call that the lowest common denominator approach. Let me be perfectly clear: I abhor the lowest common denominator approach. I will repeat that in case anyone missed it – I absolutely abhor the lowest common denominator approach to education. I want equity for all students, and for me, that means we need to find a solution that raises the educational experience for each and every student. The bar needs to be raised, not lowered. Part of that means being innovative, and part of that means nailing the basics.

I want to stress another phrase I just said: I said every single student. I didn’t say most students or the majority or the vocal minority that both sides claim the other side represents. I actually really want an exceptional experience for every student. I had a parent tell me that was a nice thing to say, but that I really meant it in the context of the broad student body. No, that’s not what I said. I actually mean it at an individual student level – for your kid, and your kid, and her kid, and my kid. I want every student to have an individualized learning plan that’s unique to them. Now I’ve shifted from talking about an operational issue called Mandarin Structure to a different topic called District Vision. Can we achieve that vision? I don’t know, but that’s what I’m pushing for. If it can be achieved anywhere, it seems to me that Lake Forest might just be the place…we have the resources and we clearly have the passion. But if that is our mindset, getting just the right solution for the issue at hand becomes a bit trickier. It’s easier to take a vote, go with the majority, and move on. But that doesn’t serve every single kid in the best manner.

I am relatively confident that there will be at least one person unhappy with the whatever long-term solution the Board ultimately approves, and that person will be able to throw my words back in my face. They will tell me that the new structure is not exceptional for their child, which I said was my goal. That, I have come to realize, is the price of transparency. But that is my goal…and now you all know it … I may fall short. I’ll try my best.

Another item related to equity is how our students’ days are structured. We’re currently treating our first graders at Cherokee like 8th graders, some of them moving from classroom to classroom all day long. This was done with the best of intentions in the name of integration. Some of you may have 1st graders and you may be ok with that. I respect your opinion, but I need to tell you – I’m not ok with this structure. I don’t believe its healthy for our students. I don’t think it is particularly healthy for your kids, regardless of if they are learning Mandarin or not.

I believe the social/emotional needs of students are just as important as the academic needs…and I don’t think that an 8th grade structure is Best Practice for 1st Graders. I had a parent ask me if I have any research to back that statement up. I’ve looked for an actual research paper on the topic and I’ve not found one. I’ve come to the conclusion that part of why there is no research paper is because there are few, if any, other elementary schools treating their 1st graders like 8th graders. Some might say that makes us innovative and ahead of the curve. I believe it is not healthy for our kids. So another item that I hope is part of the long-term solution is having integration among the students, but in a nurturing, rationale, and consistent environment.

A few final thoughts…

I spoke of labeling a few minutes ago, but it comes up again and again. Whether it is labeling our kids – yours is a Mandarin kid and mine is a non-Mandarin kid – or whether it’s what we call our schools – is it a neighborhood school, an immersion school, a magnet school? I find the topic of labeling to be somewhere between not helpful and counter-productive. So I avoid it.

The Administration is charged with developing a long-term recommendation and bringing it to the Board for consideration. I hope the long-term solution includes a school named Cherokee Elementary. In my head, Cherokee, as well as Everrett and Sheridan, would be a school that has a spot for every kid in the neighborhood, and every one of those kids can have an exceptional educational experience. Perhaps part of the experience is that Cherokee has a focus on world languages such that all students who go there receive innovative and best-in-class instruction in some world language … maybe there is more than one to choose from. Part of that experience also must include excelling in the basics, the core subjects. And part of that experience must be that every kid walks away feeling special … because each one is special.

Did I just tell you what I think the answer might be? Maybe. Or perhaps there is another structure that has yet to bubble up. I do think we are getting closer. The Administration has the job of developing that long-term solution and bringing it to the Board. I know they are still listening, processing, and discerning, as am I.

OK, I’ll quickly address the elephant in the room – Kindergarten. A lot of focus on kindergarten … with people asking, “Will I reverse my vote on kindergarten or will I stand firm on no kindergarten next year?” There are two petitions going on right now, both with hundreds of signatures, each at least tangentially related to the kindergarten question. Here’s my two cents on kindergarten, being as direct as I can be….

I want us to arrive at the right solution for the long-term – and I want us to get there quickly. I don’t believe more short-term attempts at band aids are helping. The kindergarten answer – whatever it is – should fall out of that long-term solution. The Administration has said that their target is to bring the Board a recommendation regarding the long-term solution this spring, hopefully at the April board meeting. We’re not talking about another 6 – 12 months of this uncertainty, but rather a few weeks. I expect every grade, from K-8, to be discussed as part of that recommendation or one following soon thereafter.

I also hope that some level of implementation of the long-term solution might start this fall with the new cohort of students – but I don’t know if that is realistic. I don’t know what that looks like since we don’t know the long-term solution yet. That is where my focus lies and I encourage you to put your focus there as well.

How can you help? Many of you are helping by coming to the meetings that the admin is hosting and providing your input. There is another great opportunity to provide your input tomorrow, Wednesday at 10 am at Cherokee School. Staying positive and focusing on solutions that elevate all students’ experience also is a great way to help. Tearing people down rarely helps … really trying to understand other perspectives and working together to find a mutually acceptable solution – that’s harder to do, but that is how you can best help.

I’ll close by again thanking each of you for coming tonight. We have a great community with passionate parents, really awesome kids, and great schools that I want to make exceptional.

Thank you for being here tonight. More importantly, thank you for caring.

Mike Borkowski, member of the District 67 Board of Education