Wednesday, June 19, 2019

YSEALI PFP Day 28: Barrington - the Bedroom Community

17 May 2019

We made our way to Ogilvy Transportation Center in the morning to take the 1-hour Union Pacific Northwest Metra train ride towards Barrington. We checked the digital signboards, identified the terminal and since we were slightly early, we went to get our coffee. When we returned to the terminal, we were wondering where was the train. After a quick check, we realised there was a change in terminal! And so we rushed in to the train, just before it departed. What an adventurous start to a fine day!

We were waiting for Liam Neeson

Thanks to Yasmin, managed to get a ticket using credits stored in Ventra card via the mobile phone app

Not sure if pensive...
... or sleepy

Checking out the upper deck

Our host patiently waiting for our arrival at Barrington station

We were received by ACYPL alumnus Wendy Farley, Executive VP of External Affairs at the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township. Wendy also served as an elected member of the Barrington Unit School District 220 School Board.

Our first visit was to the Countryside Elementary School

The crest reads: US Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School

We had learnt about Illinois State GovernmentCity and County government units; as well as Library District Boards and Mosquito Abatement Districts. At Barrington, we got to double-click into some of these local government units, as well as learn about villages and townships.

Barrington Unit School District 220 School Board has 7 elected Board members. The village of Barrington has a population of about 10,000. In recent elections, candidates required about 4,000 votes to win. The School Board represents the community in setting the goals and priorities of education in local schools, namely, in the areas of safety; technology in education; and negotiating with Barrington Education Association (the teachers' union in Barrington) on the union contracts for teachers.

The School Board hires a Superintendent to implement its objectives. The Superintendent works with the School Principals work to translate the goals into actions. School District 220 serves schools in 10 cities.

The entry salary for teachers is about USD52K, regardless of the grades they teach. The union contract locks in a 3% annual increment. Right-to-work laws were not applicable to Barrington teachers, hence all teachers must join the Barrington Education Association upon employment.   

Located about 50km northwest of Chicago, Barrington is a bedroom community. Most residents work in the City of Chicago. In the morning, there are express trains that make the one-way commute duration at about 45 minutes. Since Barrington is largely residential, economic activities are limited, with schools being the largest employer. Other major employers include Pepsico, Motorola, Sears and car dealers.

The Wild Cat is the mascot of the school

School Principal Dr. Micah Korb led us on a campus tour. We visited the kindergarten and fifth grade classrooms in the Chinese Immersion programme

Met Ms Chin Kieg Lian, a teacher from Malaysia, who shared the same University and Junior College as me!

Separation of waste at the canteen for "Recycle", "Compost" and "Landfill"

A mosaic art

Flexible classroom used for STEM classes

At the fifth grade classroom, the teacher shared that the school uses Chinese textbooks and curriculum from Singapore!

Singapore Chinese Language Textbook

We interacted with the students who were in the midst of writing an essay on Dragonboating.

A student writes Hello in Chinese

And then we started writing our names in Chinese

The school is also strong in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This is its STEM lab:


And then we checked out the library!

Storyreading session. Student got to be in real comfy positions

Through learning how to use the 3D printers, students get to experiment and learn from failures through the trial-and-error exercises. The School District is a firm supporter of employing technology in education.

3D printers in the school library

"What's for lunch?"

The Student Council is elected by the student body. An early introduction to democracy for students.

After the campus tour, we had a meeting with Principal Dr Korb.

Countryside Elementary School is a National Blue Ribbon School, a status accorded by the US government to "honour schools that have achieved high levels of student achievement or made significant improvements in closing the achievement gap among student subgroups" (source: Wikipedia).

Relating to experiences in Singapore, I asked about the relationship between parents and teachers, especially assertive parents. Dr Korb shared that the school was honest and open to parents on what the school could or could not do. The school sets a common language in school and with parents, in terms of curriculum and students' behaviour. The Parent Teacher Organisation (PTO) actively partnered the school, most recently, in raising funds for an inclusive playground (Project Playground - Let's Play Together) so that students with special needs could also play together alongside their schoolmates.

On homework, the school adopts an approach to reinforce what is covered in the day, instead of introducing new learning via homework. This is because students may not learn correctly, and the teacher will then have help the students unlearn the wrong facts.

We also discussed on the Chinese Immersion Programme. It initiated from a federal grant, but when the grant expired, parents formed a council and raised funds to continue the programme. 

With Dr. Micah Korb, Principal, Countryside Elementary School

Wendy shared about her involvement in lobbying for the "yes" vote in a referendum to raise taxes to purchase bonds to finance education. 7,000 voted in the referendum. The proposed raising of taxes did not succeed.

The teacher - student ratio is about 1:21 in kindergarten, going up to 1:24 at 5th grade. 1:30 in middle school.

Wendy drove us for a tour around Barrington High School. We observed the packed parking lot, and learnt that at age 15, one could already drive with parents in the car. From 16, they could drive independently. Grade 12 students could park in school.

Several railroads cut across Barrington, and cause buildup of traffic. We pulled over with Canada National Rail ahead of us. The railroad links Canada to Mexico. We learnt that these trains could sometimes be pulling over 100 carriages!

We stopped over at a cafe and bought lunch for a lunch meeting at the Village Hall.

Barrington Village Hall

The flag of Barrington features wheat, book, chemistry and a tree within the shield

We held a meeting with Jennifer Wondrasek, Trustee, Village of Barrington; David Nelson, former Mayor of Barrington and Cuba Township Supervisor; and Patty Dowd Schmitz, Director, Communications/Marketing & Events Director, Village of Barrington. Trustees are elected officials. We discussed about the role of a small village government and a large township in the state of Illinois; as well as the services that each provide as well as their governance. 

Patty Dowd Schmitz, Director, Communications/Marketing & Events Director, Village of Barrington

Housing Developments - most residential zones limit buildings to 3 storeys high

The Village of Barrington, has a board of 7 trustees, employs about 75 staff, in departments such as Communications; Economic Development (attracts investments and formulates revitalisation plans for downtown Barrington and development of town centre); Planning and Development (development of residential and commercial zones); Human Resources; Police and Fire. The Village also manages the Barrington White House, a cultural space for the community. Operating budget of the Village is about $15m. 

Townships were established in the 1800s in Illinois, based on a 6 x 6 miles grid system to provide services for the local community. About a decade later, villages were set up to provide more services especially to the suburbs. Rural areas continued to be taken care of by townships.

Different Townships perform different roles. Cuba Township looks at roads; assesses property taxes and provides food pantry. On the other hand, the Barrington Township does not look at roads; does not assess property taxes (in Cook County, Township Assessors do not assess property) but does provide food pantry for families in need. Barrington Village looks after fire and safety; maintenance and construction of roads and zoning. 

We were curious on why the Village was called a "Village" even though the area looked more developed than what one would imagine as a village. We learnt that "Villages" were formed usually at areas near creeks where people resided. 

To spur economic development, the Village created a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District in a portion of the downtown. TIF Districts establishes a base value for all real estate in the District in the year of establishment. Other taxing districts, such as school districts and library districts, collects taxes from the properties in the District based on the base valuation. Increases in the property values are taxed at the same tax rate but all proceeds are remitted to the TIF District to improve it and lower the cost of development in the District.

I raised a question on what do Trustee candidates campaign about during elections. Candidates generally present their ideas on development of the Village, and are elected at large (i.e. not individually by wards, but by entire Village).

Jennifer Wondrasek, Trustee, Village of Barrington sharing with us some of ongoing road improvement works

One of the key infrastructure project was the construction of underground roads to allow vehicles to bypass the railroads. The underground roads would improve traffic for residents and enhance response time from safety and rescue vehicles. Costing USD75m, the Village had already taken more than a decade to secure the necessary grants. 

Public can sit in any meetings

We have a quorum. Let's move the motion!

We did a tour of the Village Hall.

Taking a look at the map of Barrington Village, which is defined by the coloured areas.

This uncoloured stretch of houses did not want to be part of Barrington Village, resulting in a weird hollowed area in the map of the Village. There could be many reasons, one of which could be that they did not want to pay the amount of tax set by the Village.

Sometimes you could just be living next door, but you are not part of the Village

Barrington Township wanted to build a fire station next to a school. Residents objected and lobbied Cook County, which had it voted down. 

Next, we visited the Barrington Area Library, under the Library District Board's jurisdiction. Board members are elected by residents. The Library District draws its funds from part of the property tax that residents pay.

Free usage of 3D printers

Free workspace

Free studio facilities

Studio comes with green wall

Backpacks of materials for loan

There was a talk on... the history of donut...

Cool interior of the Library

Water Tower

One of the downtown developments by the Village of Barrington

Barrington White House

We stopped over at Norton’s USA store, which sells unique items all made in the USA. We learnt from the shop staff that the store was started by a celebrity who was not able to find things made in the USA, and decided to set up a store to sell US made products only. We also learnt that she is a resident of Barrington!

Wendy drove us to take a look at the Citizen’s Park.

Wendy hosted us to a gathering at her place, with her friends and their children, over hot dogs, snacks and drinks.

A photo by Wendy

And a photo by Wendy's adorable son

We had the opportunity to speak, in Mandarin, with some of the children who were in the Chinese Immersion Programme. It was pretty cool to know some of the activism work the teens were involved in at their age. Also got to know that the schools here use Singapore Mathematics textbooks too!

Goodbye Barrington

Heading back to Ogilvy Transportation Center

Had dinner at a Japanese restaurant opposite our corporate housing. It had been a while~