Local legislator approves of No Child Left Behind Revision

  • Written by Joe Boyle

No Child Left Behind will soon disappear much like classroom chalkboards as the Senate voted to dismantle the law that was originally signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 to provide a better education for all U.S. students.

The Senate voted 85-12 to revise No Child Left Behind on Dec. 9. President Obama signed the bill the following day. No Child Left Behind has been reincarnated as the Every Student Succeeds Act. When Bush first signed the No Child Left Behind Act 13 years ago, the measure received bipartisan support. The bill was designed to increase accountability of administrators and teachers to deliver a quality education to all students.

However, critics have pointed out that despite the good intentions of that bill, the No Child Left Behind Act never reached those goals. State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), who district includes portions of Oak Lawn and Chicago’s Southwest Side, said that changes were necessary to provide a solid education for students in poorer communities.

“From what I have learned and read, the new bill will give the power of education back to the states,” said Flowers. “There is no one school that fits all. There is not one student that fits all. They are all different.”

Flowers and other critics of the No Child Left Behind Act have said that instruction was too often based on following the strict federal guidelines of Common Core, which emphasizes the need to not only answer a math problem but to understand how someone reached a conclusive answer.

Common Core had been used in 40 states. While Common Core will continue under the new bill, the federal government can no longer insist on particular academic standards throughout the nation.

Flowers said that there was too much emphasis placed on specific testing that does not provide a grasp of a student’s potential. While tutoring was supposed to be made available for struggling students in poorer districts, that did not happen, she said.

“The haves got richer and the have-nots did not,” said Flowers. “A lot has changed since I was younger. Dads went off to war. Now dads and moms and even grandmas are going off to war. A lot of families are impacted that are not from affluent districts. That’s why I say the kids haven’t failed, it’s the adults who have failed them.”

The goal of No Child Left Behind was to provide a thorough learning environment to improve the math and science scores of American students who have been lacking behind other developed nations. Critics have pointed out that an over emphasis on testing continued to contribute to the problem. In some cases, teachers and students became obsessed with memorizing and preparing for tests that actually detracted from learning.

Nathan R. Monel, national PTA executive director, welcomed changes to the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The Every Student Succeeds Act is a marked improvement over current law,” said Monel. “The bill will ensure families are empowered to support their children's learning and that all students receive a high-quality, well-rounded education that prepares them for long-term success.”

States will still face some federal requirements for struggling schools, especially those in the lower five percent. Those schools will be required to close those gaps. The difference is that the federal government will no longer dictate how that will be done.

And that is fine with Flowers.

“One Chicago principal once told me that he would rather have an average student who asks questions about these tests than someone who just memorizes the answers. It shows that student is thinking,” said Flowers. “We have to consider the whole student, not just these tests.”

Heart and lung patients celebrate after getting second chance

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

“The happiest day of my life was the day I died,” said Gerald “Jack” Boekeloo, 72, who was very much alive and enjoying the festivities at Advocate Christ Medical Center’s Annual VAD, Heart and Lung Transplant Holiday Party last Thursday at the Hilton Oak Lawn.

  The party, said to be the largest of its kind in the Chicago area with more than 200 in attendance, brought together Advocate Christ patients who have received heart transplants, lung transplants, or ventricular assist devices, along with their families, doctors, nurses and other staff.

Boekeloo was among those wearing battery packs attached to an LVAD, or left ventricular assist device, which he received after suffering a major heart attack and lost conscience while driving on 95th Street near Cicero Avenue on Nov. 19, 2011. Sitting beside him was Dawn Bausone-Gazda, a nurse at Christ whom he credits with saving his life that day.

LVADs are mechanical heart pumps that are surgically implanted on the left ventricle, one of the heart’s four chambers, and take over when the ventricle cannot pump oxygenated blood to the aorta and throughout the body.

“I wasn’t feeling very well,” Boekeloo said, explaining why he was driving east on 95th Street, trying to get to the hospital at 4440 W. 95th St. He crossed Cicero Avenue, but only made it to the White Castle parking lot on the corner, when he lost consciousness.

Baisone-Gazda, a nurse at Christ for 28 years, had just left her mother’s bedside at the hospital when she saw the commotion in the parking lot and came over. After determining that Boekeloo was having a heart attack, she revived him using CPR, and left when the ambulance arrived.

Boekeloo remained hospitalized for months before receiving the LVAD the following April, and told everyone he met about the nurse who saved his life, hoping to meet and thank her.

“I even told her once, when she came in to draw my blood. But she didn’t say anything until another nurse confided that she might be the one I was looking for.”

The two have since become close friends, and were joking between themselves during the dinner.

“This was not the only time she saved a life,” said Boekeloo.

“It’s just part of the job. When these things happen, it does make you became a nurse,” said Baisone-Gazda, a Burbank resident who has worked at the hospital for 28 years.

“It was amazing. Think of the best day of your life and multiply it by a million,” said Boekeloo, trying to describe the day he got a new lease on life.

At a nearby table, Ronald Walton, 63, a lifelong Oak Lawn resident, was celebrating with his mother, Dorothy, 88, who serves as his caregiver.

“We help each other,” she said.

Walton proudly showed of his own battery pack slung around his shoulder, which keeps his heart pumping when he is out and about. When he goes to bed at night, he explained that he plugs himself into an electrical outlet.

“It’s excellent. I have no complaints at all,” said Walton, explaining that the left side of his heart stopped working when he was 61.

“At least it happened after I retired as a switchman for Santa Fe Railroad,” he said. “I couldn’t work with this.

“After being on life-support, I was out of the hospital 12 days after it was inserted,” he said.

   Walton said the VAD won’t prevent him from getting a heart transplant in the future, but he is happy with the pump.

“It’s a part of me now. I can do just about everything I did before. I don’t go up on the roof anymore, but that is a good thing,” he said with a smile.

Someone else smiling at the party was Antone Tatooles MD. The director of the ventricular assist program at Christ Hospital toured the room chatting with his patients, as well as others who received heart and lung transplants, after keynote speaker Dan Lietz, Chicago Metro coordinator of the Secretary of State’s Organ/Tissue Donor Program stressed the importance of organ donation in saving lives.

“We do about 100 VAD surgeries a year,” said Tatooles. “Our department is one of the busiest in the U.S., and one of the leaders in new technology,” he said.

“It’s overwhelming to see all these people doing so well,” Tatooles said, when asked what it was like to look around and see so many people he operated on returning to health. “It really is the best gift you could get (as a doctor). “At nearly every table there is someone with a VAD. It would be more amazing if you could have seen them before. Some couldn’t breathe on their own.”

“You’re all miracles,” Ken Lukhard, president of Advocate Christ Medical Center, told the group.

“Life is a precious gift…as a person of faith, I often just glance up to the ninth floor roof where there is a big cross, and I just thank God that he is there and using amazingly gifted people to save lives here every day,” Luckhard added.

Worth approves license for medical marijuana dispensary

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

It is official. A business license for a medical marijuana dispensary, Windy City Cannabis, located at 11425 S. Harlem Ave., was approved unanimously at the Tuesday Village Board Meeting in Worth. The facility is expected to be open by late January.

The Village’s Economic Development Commission recommended the license approval contingent upon all inspections being completed and in compliance with all village codes and ordinances.

The Worth location is the fourth facility to be opened by Windy City Cannabis. The other locations are in Homewood, Posen and Justice.

A company representative at the meeting issued an invitation to the board or any interested residents to attend an open house at the Homewood Facility on Saturday, Dec. 19. “It will be the last time any non-medical person can enter the facilities,” he said.

Trustee Peter Kats asked if any Worth residents would be hired at the new facility. “This was promised to us when your company made a presentation to our board,” he said.

The representative replied that two Worth residents had been interviewed and both were offered a position. “So far, we have only had one acceptance of the offer,” he said.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Jack McGrath asked what the village hoped to gain from the approval of this new business.

Mayor Mary Werner replied that the facility would possibly be drawing people who have never been to Worth. “It is our hope that this will be a boon for our businesses. Hopefully, people coming to the dispensary will eat in our restaurants, shop, buy gas, etc. We believe this business will be a true blessing to the people who really need it as well as a boost to our business climate.”

Also approved was an ordinance amendment calling for a three percent increase in the village’s water rate. The rate increase, per 1,000 gallons of water used by consumers, is: for all business or commercial uses, $7.93 in 2016 (an increase from $7.70 in 2015); for all uses not otherwise provided including residential uses, $7.87 (an increase from $7.64 in 2015) and for churches, schools and nonprofit institutions, $7.34 (an increase from $7.13 in 2015).

The ordinance states that the rate increase supports the village’s efforts to provide necessary services to its residents and businesses and to promote public health, safety and welfare.

Other board action included an approval of an ordinance levying taxes for all corporate purposes for the village for the fiscal year commencing on May 1, 2016 and ending on April 30, 2017; and approval of a seven-year cable franchise agreement with ComCast.

A business license was approved for Mobile 1, a cellphone retail and repair shop at 10730 S. Harlem.

The mayor also announced that the village had entered a two-year agreement with Clear Channel Outdoor Advertising for free advertising on its digital display on the west side of the I-294 Tri-State Tollway, 150 feet south of 107th Street.

Village Clerk Bonnie Price announced that 30 recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Base will be arriving at the Marrs-Meyer American Legion Hall for dinner on Christmas Day. She invited residents to line the street leading to the Hall (Depot Avenue) to welcome them to Worth. For further information, contact the Village Hall at (708) 448-1181.

Part-time Evergreen Park firefighter dies fighting Chicago blaze

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Fire departments and communities from Evergreen Park to Palos Park are mourning the loss of Chicago firefighter/paramedic Daniel Capuano, 42, whose wake is being held today at St. Rita High School in Chicago, followed by his funeral tomorrow.

In addition to being a 15-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, where he was assigned to Tower Ladder 34 in the South Chicago neighborhood, Capuano also was a part-time Evergreen Park firefighter for the past 16 years.

The former resident of Palos Park, who began his career with the Palos Fire Protection District based there, was killed while battling a blaze in a vacant Chicago warehouse early Monday morning.

          Chicago Fire Department officials said Capuano was searching through thick smoke on the second floor of the building when he suffered fatal injuries, falling through an unmarked elevator shaft in the warehouse. According to city officials, illegal work, including removal of the elevator, was being done in the building without permits.

          He was taken by ambulance to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead.

“It’s a very sad day here,” said Evergreen Park Fire Chief Ronald Kleinhaus on Monday. “This is the first time something like this has happened to us.”

Kleinhaus and other members of the department had just returned from a visit to Capuano’s wife, Julie, a Chicago Public Schools teacher, and their three children in their nearby Mount Greenwood home. Their daughter, Amanda, 16, attends Mother McAuley High School, while Nick, 12, and Andrew, 13, are students at Queen of Martyrs School in Evergreen Park, a few blocks from their house.

“It has been very, very rough here,” said Queen of Martyrs Principal Kathleen Tomaszewski. “We’ve had two parents pass away in the past week.”

In addition to knowing the Capuanos through the school, Tomaszewski grew up with Julie Capuano in Chicago’s Wrightwood neighborhood.

“It is very sad. They are a very faithful, very wonderful family,” she said.

“Dan got his start with us,” said Palos Fire Chief James Graben . ”He went through our fire academy and EMT training here,” he said, and stayed with the department for about eight years.

“It’s devastating news for all of us,” said Graben, a 35-year veteran of the department who remembers working with Capuano himself. He noted that his parents, Michael and Jacqueline Capuano, still live in Palos Park.

“We’re all affected by this tragic loss. A lot of our guys go on to other departments. Many who are here now also worked with him in Evergreen Park, too,” he explained. He noted that prior to going to Evergreen Park, Capuano also worked for the Lemont Fire Department.

While there, Capuano was one of four paramedics credited with saving the life of a caddy on the 15th fairway Cog Hill Golf Course, using a portable defibrillator to restart the man's heart.

          In addition to his wife, children and parents, Capuano is also survived by two brothers, one of whom lives in Palos Heights.

          His wake is scheduled from 3 to 9 p.m. today, Thursday, at St. Rita High School Chapel, 7740 S. Western Ave., Chicago. The funeral will be there at 10 a.m. tomorrow, followed by interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 and the Ende, Menzer, Walsh & Quinn Retirees' Widows' and Children’s Assistance Fund have established a memorial fund to benefit the family at BMO Harris Bank. The bank's locations are accepting cash or check donations from customers and the general public.

Donations can also be mailed to: EMWQ Fund, Attn: Daniel V. Capuano Memorial Fund, 20 S. Clark St., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60603. Checks should be made payable to: Daniel V. Capuano Memorial Fund. Donations are also accepted online.

Big Pappa's to prepare big Christmas meals for less fortunate

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Dermot Connolly

Sandi DiGangi holds one of the hundreds of turkeys she will be preparing for free holiday meals for the 6th Annual “Feed the Needy” Christmas Dinner she will be serving up in her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant at 10806 S. Cicero Ave., Oak Lawn, on Christmas Day. She is also collecting toys that will be given to children with the meals.

Big Pappa’s to prepare big meals on Christmas Day for less fortunate

By Dermot Connolly

       A serious health scare earlier this year has not stopped Sandi DiGangi, owner of Big Pappa’s Gyros in Oak Lawn, from going on with her 6th Annual Christmas Dinner to feed the needy and working poor.

       DiGangi said that even a family tragedy, her mother-in-law’s death on Thanksgiving Day, did not prevent her from bringing 90 Thanksgiving meals to homebound seniors in Oak Lawn.

    That was just practice for the big event on Christmas when she expects to feed at least 3,200 families, providing them with a traditional home-cooked holiday meal of turkey and the trimmings, as well as presents for any children in the house.

     That number has grown from the 750 meals served when she and her family began the tradition of serving free holiday meals in the restaurant at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. in 2010.

     They went through 236 turkeys last year.

    DiGangi considered selling her business earlier this year after being misdiagnosed with throat cancer. She was hospitalized twice for several weeks at a time for other health concerns, had two operations and was told she was going to die at one point before she gradually recovered.

    “I’m going to be doing this as long as I am alive,” she said, giving thanks to her children, Tony, 20; Michaline, 17; and Nicolette, 14, for pitching in and never complaining about not having a holiday at home.

      While her health battles did not keep her down, DiGangi acknowledged that both monetary and gift donations are down considerably over previous years. She pointed to a counter lined with gifts, noting that in past years they had a table full by now.

       Last year, in addition to donations, she added $5,000 of her own money.

      While this is her sixth year serving the meals out of her Oak Lawn restaurant, DiGangi and her family have been volunteering at homeless shelters and elsewhere for the past 19 years. She said she does it all in honor of her son, Gary, 5, who died in a fire in 1995.

     “I was able to help those in need,” said DiGangi, who remembers growing up poor herself in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. “God always blessed me, and this is what Christmas is all about, giving back, especially to the children,” she said.

     The restaurant owner said that 1,300 people have already signed up for the meals, and she is expecting to serve at least as many as they did last year.

   “We stopped counting after 3,200,” she said. Local volunteers, often Oak Lawn police officers, deliver some of the meals to homes in the Oak Lawn area, but she said that in addition to nearby communities such as Chicago, Burbank and Summit, many people come from as far as Orland Park and Park Forest to pick up meals.

 “There will be a line around the block, there always is,” she said, explaining that people are asked to come between noon and 6 p.m., but they often are handing out meals up until 9 p.m.

   “I figure if people come from as far away as Park Forest, they need a meal. People don’t realize, a lot of these people have absolutely nothing. Food is expensive,” she said. “And every child will get at least one gift. I tell them Santa stopped by here with their gifts, because they might not have gotten any at home.”

Monetary donations and unwrapped gifts for children may be dropped off at the restaurant. Donations may also be sent through a GoFundMe site set up for her by a supporter at