Checks and Balances

Public records and education surveys lead to understanding the scope of district finances, SEL, the 2020-2021 calendar and administrative roles and responsibilities.


Patrick R. Johnson

Covering the topics of teacher wellness, district roles, calendars and finances, the Tom Tom Staff created an online package to investigate District 117.

By The Tom Tom Staff, Antioch Community High School - IL


The Tom Tom staff has spent the last several weeks analyzing the inner workings of Community High School District 117 and the surrounding high school districts within the Lake County area. During our time researching, one thing became apparent: it is difficult to understand the mechanics of a school district. There were hundreds of documents that needed to be sorted. The staff collected countless pages of spreadsheets concerning salaries and benefits for every staff member in the surrounding districts, contracts and collective bargaining agreements, staff roles and profiles, school report cards, district needs and financial budgets and more. For our readers benefit, all of the data we collected had to be analyzed to fully comprehend the work that goes into maintaining a school district. Our staff has combined all this information into written words, pictures and interactive infographics for better understanding, as well as a full definition page to define words that could be confusing.

To perform our research thoroughly, we have tackled a wide range of topics: reading district collective bargaining agreements, analyzing District 117 Panorama surveys and reading conference and county staff compensation reports. Our project includes four categories: students and teacher wellness, district calendars, finances and staff roles. Within each category, readers will have the option to interact with the data our staff collected.

To contribute to this project, staffers Julia Hackeloer and Kara Galarneau along with other staffers created an infographic and wrote four stories about the data from the 2018-19 Panorama Survey reflecting teacher wellness. Content editors Bridget Nauman and Grace Acello and social media editor Madisen Krapf and their group of staffers created calendar stories that have a better look on what scheduling will look like for the 2020-21 school year. Highlighting several staff members in the district, staffer Lena DeVore wrote a profile on Community High School District 117 Superintendent James McKay, Ed.D (Doctor of Education), with a video of the interview produced by senior Sequoit Broadcast Network Executive Producer Nayla Loos, featuring Robbie Hulting as the reporter. Other members in Lena’s group discussed on the different roles adults play in the school community. Staffers Sarah Benes, Katie Quirke and Lexi Barbosa dissect the district department chair salary averages and benefits for the 2019-20 school year and compare it to other schools in our conference.

After a month’s work, we are proud to present Checks and Balances, a series of stories and infographics that are different than our usual print magazines and digital content. We took what we learned at our national convention in November, put the skills into action, answered the call of being a good and truthful journalist and are presenting our community with what our program wants to be moving forward: not just student journalists, but professional journalists.

This story was originally published on Sequoit Media on December 20, 2019.