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District 60 celebrates $40 million worth of school improvements

Waukegan District 60 administrators joined with students cut ribbOakdale elementary's new wing  Friday Oct. 4. Adults are: Superintendent Donaldo

Waukegan District 60 administrators joined with students to cut a ribbon to Oakdale elementary's new wing Friday, Oct. 4. Adults are: Superintendent Donaldo Batiste (left to right) and school board members June Maguire, Don Elliott, Anita Hanna (president) and Michael Rodriguez. Also pictured, in background, are Lake County Regional Superintendent Roycealee Wood and Oakdale Principal John Samuelian. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

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During the ribbon cutting for a new addition at Oakdale Elementary, principal John Samuelian introduced another veteran of the school system: his father, George Samuelian.

George Samuelian began his teaching career in Waukegan at Oakdale in 1960.

“Fifty years later, my son became principal of this building,” Samuelian told the crowd.

A veteran of the Korean War, and former principal of North School in Waukegan, Samuelian recalled that Oakdale once stood next to farmland that included a silo.

“In the 1960s, houses started cropping up,” Samuelian said. “Then streets came in. That brought kids.”

He recalled the mentorship of past administrators and teachers, and sweltering days in classrooms on the school’s second floor, back when fans weren’t allowed.

“I still feel sorry for the teachers and kids up there,” he said, pointing upward to laughter from the crowd.

Samuelian, 81, who still lives in Waukegan, said a note he received from a student long ago, became his mantra.

“One kid wrote that “Mr. Samuelian was very strict but he was always fair to everyone,” Samuelian said. “That kid recently retired as a Lake County judge.”

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Updated: December 4, 2013 2:40AM

Gratitude − and reminders that the pursuit of education never ends − is evident in Waukegan District 60, where the seventh ribbon cutting since March was held Friday as a $40 million expansion and improvement project draws to a close.

Kindergardners and first-graders at Oakdale Elementary, 2230 N. McAree Road, on the city’s north side, are learning in a brand-new, light-filled and air-conditioned wing, which was the site of the most recent ceremony.

“This new wing is more than bricks and mortar,” Oakdale Principal John Samuelian told a crowd that included student ambassadors, parents, teachers, the construction team and administrators, including 12 principals from throughout the district.

“It represents a promise that the school board and district administrators will do whatever it takes to give our children a quality education,” Samuelian continued. “This board is keeping an important promise and conferring a lasting legacy of opportunity on future generations.”

Funding for the expansion, the largest construction project in District 60 history, includes $28.3 million from the state’s Illinois Jobs Now! program and $9.6 million in district construction bonds.

In addition to Oakdale, 11 other elementary schools have been expanded, including Clearview, Glen Flora, Glenwood, Greenwood, Hyde Park, Little Fort, McCall, North, Washington, Whittier and Carman-Buckner. In total, 116 classrooms have been added to the district, which has an enrollment of nearly 17,000 students.

One young student read aloud from a letter written by members of Mrs. Drew’s first grade class:

“Thank you for the new classroom. It is really nice. We really like the desks, chairs, computers, bathroom and how bright it is.”

Superintendent Donaldo Batiste hailed the young children who took part in the ceremony.

“The leadership they exhibited today is something we want to live on forever,” Batiste said.

Former school board president Michael Rodriguez helped lead the planning for the complicated, three-phase construction, which included a successful local and minority hiring initiative that has since been called “the Waukegan model,”

Rodriguez said the construction is “just one step” toward increasing educational opportunity for all students.

“We know it’s so important, especially in the early years, the formative years,” Rodriguez said. “If a child is not reading by third grade, it signals possible failure in the future. It’s important we provide opportunity in the early years.”

Chris Urban, manager for project architect Ohio-based Fanning Howey, spoke of the grateful school community.

“The best part of all this is hearing those ‘thank yous’ today,” Urban said. “That’s what this is all about.”

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