Note: On May 20, 2020, the IMSA Board of Trustees made a decision to begin the 2020-2021 Academic Year with distance learning and remote working with the intention of moving to in-person learning and working when IMSA meets the criteria for the Restore Illinois plan and there is treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19. The health and safety of IMSA students, faculty, staff, and community is paramount in this decision. All measures for distance learning and remote working will continue to be driven by the Academy’s mission, beliefs, and legislative charges.
July 31, 2020
IMSA President José M. Torres, Ph.D., today announced the release of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy’s “Fall 2020 Remote Working and Distance Learning Plan”. The guidance details a May 20, 2020 Board of Trustees’ decision to open for remote working and distance learning at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
“During this unprecedented time and out of an abundance of caution, we wanted to give our community, students, parents, staff, including faculty, time to plan effectively,” says Torres. “We are taking every step to ensure a full and robust IMSA experience, including dynamic learning environments, diversity of opportunity, and shared experiences among all learners,” he adds.
According to Torres, there are unique challenges to reopening IMSA based on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, he appointed a Transition Task Force whose comprehensive work has helped inform the fall 2020 Plan from a health and safety perspective and accounting for student experience, academics, outreach, employee well-being, operations, and communications.
“This Plan was developed based on lessons learned, feedback from our IMSA community, and research analysis. It moves us forward, intentionality on a path that keeps our students and employees at the forefront,” says Torres.
Virtual Town Halls for employees are on Tuesday, August 4, at 1:00 p.m. and for students and parents on Wednesday, August 5, at 7:00 p.m. to review the Plan and answer questions from the community.
IMSA’s goal is for students and staff, including faculty, to return to campus when it is safe to do so. See the Plan for specific criteria.
“We believe strongly in the transformative power of IMSA’s living-learning environment,” says Torres. “At the same time, we remain focused on the educational mission of IMSA, to ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition,” he concludes.
July 9, 2020
IMSA Update in the Face of COVID-19
FY21 Budget Shortfall
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, IMSA will not open for in-person residential learning in the fall. While IMSA transitions from an emergency remote learning environment to a well-designed Fall 2020 distance learning program that provides equity and academic rigor for IMSA students, the COVID-19 pandemic leaves us struggling to balance the FY21 budget. We were fortunate to receive flat funding from the General Assembly for FY21; however, the loss of Fall 2020 student fees due to distance learning, grant funding shrinkage and loss of outreach program registration fees due to our inability to hold in-person youth programs and educator professional development training statewide results in a crushing $2.45 million revenue shortfall.
By law, IMSA cannot charge tuition, or room and board fees and has no other sources of revenue to adequately close the $2.45 million FY21 funding gap other than to reduce expenses. To this end, we reduced non-personnel expenses by $1.3 million (food, health, transportation, facilities, and some co-curricular programs). In addition, we enacted $721,000 worth of reductions in workforce, including layoffs, and decided to not fill several open vacancies. We know when anyone loses their job, it creates a devastating situation. And because of this sensitivity, employment decisions were made after having had robust thoughtful discussions with the IMSA Board and my Cabinet. The employee information below reflects our current reality – when operating remotely, the same level of staffing is not required:
- 6 Safety and Security Officers
- 3 Custodians
- 3 Day Hall Monitors
- 2 Resident Counselors
- 2 Lab Managers
- 1 Administrative Support Assistant in Principal’s Office
- 1 Library Clerk
- 1 Statewide Student Initiatives Associate
- 1 Administrative Assistant in Center for Teaching and Learning
- 1 IN2 Center Associate-schedules and oversee students at the Center
- 1 Receiving/Inventory Clerk
- 1 Grounds Worker
- 1 Maintenance Mechanic
- 1 History Teacher
Full-time Positions Reduced to Part-time
- Athletics Coordinator
- Grant Writer/Corporate Foundation Manager
- Alumni Relations Coordinator
Open Vacancies Not Being Filled
- Executive Assistant – President’s Office
- Dean of Faculty – Principal’s Office
- Administrative Assistant – Student Affairs
- 4 Resident Counselors – Residence Life
- 1 Maintenance Mechanic
- 1 Custodian
- 1 Wellness Instructional Program Assistant (monitors fitness center use on campus)
Still, even after all of the budget reductions, IMSA’s current budget deficit is $558K plus $400K in anticipated reopening expenses. We are hopeful of receiving some funds from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which we will also need to support additional expenses in distance learning and IMSA’s equity and excellence policy program.
Use of Reserves
As of June 30, 2020, IMSA’s reserve balance stood at $5.3M. With more than a $900K deficit still remaining, we anticipate dipping into reserves to balance the budget. However, we are cautious to do so based upon discussions with the Governor’s office that agencies may need to be prepared to hold 15% in reserves for FY21, which amounts to approximately $2.8M for IMSA.
Student Inquiry and Research Program (SIR) Continued
Because of conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, IMSA is continuing its flagship Student Inquiry and Research Program (SIR) for the Academic Year, albeit with a smaller scope. SIR supports student investigations conducted on and off-campus, including original investigations on compelling questions of interest and collaboration with other students and professional researchers. Because our university partners are struggling to accommodate their staff and students during pandemic conditions, they will not accept IMSA students into their labs and on their campuses this Academic Year. The virus has had the same impact on our private partners; that is, the safety protocols of these institutions err on the side of caution, causing us to suspend the program off-campus. We must also reduce our on-campus SIR programs. By beginning the year via distance learning, our SIR-science based (wet) labs cannot be offered because we are off-campus and on-line. However, we are still offering several SIR projects on-line.
July 6, 2020
I write today with an update on what our fall reopening plan contains and when we will publish it. I hope you are enjoying the summer (but still practicing physical distancing, hand washing and other CDC guidelines to prevent the spread and/or resurgence of COVID-19). I wanted to express my kudos to you for hanging in there during what continues to be one of the most challenging global events of our lifetime. We made it through an unprecedented year that forced us to say goodbye physically to one another on March 13 and spend our time connecting, working and learning virtually.
Alumni, friends and staff rallied around IMSA families with the establishment of the Student Emergency Relief Fund raising $130,000 to help with basic essential expenses like food, rent, and utilities, as well as access to technology for remote learning. Teachers and Resident Counselors taught and checked in with students via emails, texts, and Zoom calls during the quick pivot to distance learning. The Board of Trustees, Alumni Association, current students and Alumni have stepped up and called for an end to systemic and institutional racism and police brutality facing communities of color, particularly the African-American community.
We need the IMSA community to rally again. The decision to begin Fall 2020 with distance learning and remote working was based on the health and safety of our community, CDC guidelines for physical distancing, residential hall capacity, and equitable access to an IMSA education. While we realize any implemented plan will have pros and cons and will cause a full spectrum of emotions, we feel that the chosen path forward best meets IMSA’s priorities:
- Delivering IMSA’s high standard of education to students.
- Protecting the health of all IMSA constituents.
- Allowing adequate time to allocate resources and plan for the best overall experiences for students.
- Taking into account the possible disruptions in teaching and learning if pandemic-like unforeseen adverse health events occur at IMSA, in Aurora, in Illinois, or our nation.
Based on the plans we announced in May 2020, our staff, including faculty, are working hard over the summer to ensure students have a rich learning experience, extra curricular activities, connection with classmates, and ample opportunities to succeed. There is a task force working to develop plans for what distance learning, social, emotional engagement and remote working will look like through an equity lens. The task force has partitioned the work into seven focus areas:
- Health and Safety
- Student Experience
- Employee Well-Being
The work is moving at a furious pace, so that we may share the plan with you by the end of July. As we continue to plan for and implement our Fall semester, we thank you in advance for your trust and your commitment to IMSA.
Transition Team Leader and Chief Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives Officer
May 26, 2020
I hope that you had a restful holiday weekend. As a part of the re-opening for the fall, an IMSA Transition Task Force has been established. This task force will serve as an advisory to Dr. Torres and his Cabinet, on the implementation and execution of the Fall 2020 re-opening. The participants include:
- Dana Ginnett- Student Affairs
- Tami Armstrong- Office of Public Affairs/Development
- Kimberly Corrao- Business Office
- Terry Jones- ITS
- Gwen Seeley Joosse- Center for Teaching and Learning
- Joseph Mastrocola- Human Resources
- Patrick Davis- Principal’s Office/Faculty
- Angi Rowley- Center for Teaching and Learning
- Dave Devol- Principal’s Office/Faculty
Alexis R. Thomas, MBA, JD
Chief Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives Officer
May 20, 2020
Dear Students and Parents,
Today, May 20, 2020, the IMSA Board of Trustees accepted my recommendation to begin the 2020-2021 Academic Year with distance learning and remote working with the intention of moving to in-person learning and working when IMSA meets the criteria for the Restore Illinois plan and there is treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19. The health and safety of IMSA students, faculty, staff, and community is paramount in this decision. All measures for distance learning and remote working will continue to be driven by the Academy’s mission, beliefs, and legislative charges.
Incoming Students and Parents (Class of 2023)
IMSA’s philosophy as coined by Dr. Leon Lederman, founder and Nobel Laureate, was pioneered as follows:
If we do what we know and feel is right, it is bound to happen that among our graduates there will be numbered scientists, engineers, and those who go on to earn degrees in law and letters. There are likely to be those few who create new intellectual worlds, cure a dreaded human ailment or in some other way significantly influence life on our planet. Our philosophy will be to treat our charges as if each one is capable of this extraordinary achievement. Only one such product will make the effort and expense of this school for its entire duration worthwhile.
We are excited for you to enroll in the possibilities at IMSA. In the weeks and months ahead, staff, including faculty, will focus on creating a distance learning experience that balances academic rigor and social engagement.
I am sure you have many questions. You will receive a separate email later today from the Office of Admissions with information regarding next steps.
Students and Parents (Classes of 2021 and 2022)
You will receive a separate email later today from the Office of Student Affairs with an opportunity to express your questions and comments about our plans for Fall 2020.
Employees and Staff
Shortly after we complete the student move-out of the residence halls on May 29, we will schedule a time for all employees to return to their offices to retrieve supplies or other items they may need, including those that will support them in the coming school year as we continue with distance learning and remote working. There will be different time schedules for 10 and 12-month employees. Watch for an email regarding the scheduling of your return to campus.
We look forward to coming together at the Town Hall Meeting on May 27, 2020 at 1:00 P.M. to connect more on our plans for Fall 2020.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the IMSA Fall 2020 Reopening Plan?
A: The IMSA Board of Trustees made a decision on May 20, 2020 that the 2020-2021 Academic Year with distance learning and remote working with the intention of moving to in-person learning and working when IMSA meets the criteria for the Restore Illinois plan and there is treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19.
The health and safety of IMSA students, faculty, staff, and community is paramount in this decision. All measures for distance learning and remote working will continue to be driven by the Academy’s mission, beliefs, and legislative charges.
Q: Why did IMSA make this decision?
A: IMSA is more like universities than K-12 in that we are in a residential setting with students from all over the state of Illinois. As such, we have to be very careful about how to bring people back together. In order to prepare best for the fall, I want to give our faculty, staff and residence counselors ample opportunity to get even better at distance learning. We’ve already done a terrific job with student remote learning this semester with student approval ratings between 85%-93%. However, we want to have a robust educational program for everyone and even be best in class. We will spend the summer preparing well for distance learning. If and when it becomes safe to go to in-person learning, IMSA knows how to open schools and we will do so very well.
Q: When will IMSA students be back on campus for in-person living and learning?
A: We will use the Restore Illinois plan to guide us. Because we are drawing students from all over the state, to reopen, IMSA would need to be Phase 4 “PLUS” meaning that IMSA would need to be in Phase 4 for its region; plus the whole state of Illinois would need to be in Phase 4. The other plus in this “Restore Plus” plan for IMSA is that we would need to have either a treatment or a vaccine for us to be able to be back to in-person teaching and learning.
Q: If IMSA is not on campus for in-person learning this fall, why were housing assignments issued?
A: We understand that our students might feel disappointment at receiving housing assignments and then learning that we will begin the Academic Year with distance learning. While we will not start the Academic Year in person at the Academy, we remain committed to providing opportunities for social connection and engagement for students, in addition to their academic learning experience. We will use the communities assigned through the housing process to build social connections fostered with the support of the Residence Life and Student Life staff, and this will be conducted virtually to start the year.
Q: Will students still have a student life experience while distance learning is in place?
A: Yes. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be focused on creating a student life distance experience that includes resources, support, involvement in clubs, participation in cultural shows and social engagement opportunities. By the end of July, we will outline the highlights of plans and opportunities.
Q: If I have questions or concerns about distance learning, how can I express them?
A: We invite you to share any comments, questions or concerns about using this Survey Link.