The last time Summit Hill School District 161 parents came to show support for Mary Drew Elementary School--at Tuesday's special meeting where the board of education voted to close the school starting in 2012-13--the atmosphere was loud, heated and contentious.
That was in stark contrast to the mood at Thursday's Cooks Night Off at Wendy's in Tinley Park where district parents and community members came together for the Mary Drew School Community Organization fundraiser.
The event, which is held the first Thursday of every month, raises money for the Mary Drew SCO, which uses it to fund student parties, assemblies and other activities. The wrinkle this Thursday was that many of the attendees also were providing their moral support to the parents and staff of the school that's being closed as the district tries to dig out of a more than $3 million budget deficit over the next three years
"It's symbolic, to show the unity in the district," said Tony Pietrzak, a Mary Drew parent who called parents, district principals and staff Wednesday, asking them to attend the event. "It's not school vs. school. Everybody cares. ... It's genuinely nice to see how many people showed up."
Board President Mary Kenny, board Vice President Joy Murphy and board members Denise Wildeveld and Sean William Doyle came out to the event, meeting with parents not just from Mary Drew but other district schools, as well. Mary Drew Principal Kathy Klein also attended and was seen talking with students.
Andria Norkiewicz, the vice president of the SCO who has three kids at Mary Drew, said she was glad that the board members showed up, even if she doesn't agree with how some of them voted. As a parent, Norkiewicz said she is trying to keep her children positive when it comes to the closing. As a member of the SCO, however, Norkiewicz finds the situation very sad.
"It's hard because when you volunteer you build relationships," she said, adding that members of the district's other SCOs have said they're going to set up a committee to see about integrating the members of Mary Drew's organization.
Not all the parents were from Mary Drew. Sharon Panozzo, a district parent who has a third-grader at Indian Trails School and a seventh-grader at Summit Hill Junior High School, said she empathizes with the Mary Drew parents and looks at the closing as something that affects the entire district.
"It's a scary feeling for your future," said Panozzo, who teaches fourth-grade in Oak Lawn. "I feel for (the Mary Drew community). It could happen to Indian Trails. It could happen to Frankfort Square. It could happen to anyone."
At the end of the night, the SCO raised $360, said Kelly Meister, who runs fundraising for the SCO. Last month, Cooks Night Off raised $157, and it averages about $150 to $180 a month, she added.
"It will not change the school from closing, but it will help in throwing a wonderful field day and fourth-grade party and graduation for the students," Meister said.
The final Cooks Night Off for Mary Drew will be April 5.