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Parents Take Issue with 'When' Not 'If' Plans for District 41 Classroom Changes

District 41 officials made a presentation Monday night sharing proposed classroom changes that would be implemented in the 2013-14 school year.

The Forest Glen Elementary School gymnasium was packed full Monday night as parents with students in District 41 crowded the standing-room-only Board of Education meeting.

Parents in attendance were concerned that the district is planning changes to how students are educated and how their days are scheduled, going from a classroom experience to split blocks, moving kids from classroom to classroom through the day and for some courses, implementing multi-age classrooms.

Knowing parents were planning to attend the board meeting in large numbers, the meeting was moved to the school from the district’s headquarters. The district made its presentation before moving on to its regular business meeting.

Think Tank

The district convened a group it called “Think Tank,” comprised of parents, teachers and administrators, in the 2011-12 school year. The focus of the group was to begin researching and planning how the district would address educating its students to meet the increased focus on 21st-century learning or science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, which will be emphasized in common core standards. 

Parents at the meeting took issue with the fact that while the district has the Think Tank doing a lot of the research and reporting—the Think Tank expanded this year to include about 60 people, mostly teachers, according to the district—it has yet to bring the discussion to parents in forums or other public presentations.

“This is not a finished product and one of the reasons we are coming to the board in November is that it allows us to have more interaction and feedback between now and end of the school year,” District 41 Superintendent Ann Riebock said at the outset of the presentation.

When not if?

One parent questioned the district Monday, saying the word “when” rather than “if” was repeatedly used during the course of the presentation, seeming to imply the district was moving forward regardless of feedback it might receive.

“I feel some of our comments fall on deaf ears. I have contacted the school board and feel the answers have been high level,” parent Lisa Paradis said.

Among the concerns raised during the meeting, parents who spoke out during a comment period took issue with:

  • The quick implementation that would be required to put the changes in place for the 2013-14 school year;
  • How teachers would be trained to take on roles as specialists in content, such as math or literacy;
  • The social/emotional implications of moving kids from teacher to teacher;
  • The possibility students would be pigeonholed and grouped based on ability;
  • The amount of education time lost as students moved from room to room for blocks.

One of the overriding concerns was that the district was moving too fast without providing data showing the benefits of using the divided day.

“This is sort of a solution looking for a problem,” said parent Bruce Currie, a bilingual education teacher in Joliet School District 86. “I am really happy with Glen Ellyn and with District 41. I see teachers so dedicated to their students. Our experience here has been fantastic. I don’t know why we are looking to make pretty radical changes to something that is working pretty well.”

Educational blocks

As currently proposed, students would have a homeroom with a teacher who would be their homeroom teacher for two years. The homeroom teacher would specialize in either literacy/social studies or math/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math). The students would have their day divided between a block focusing on literacy/social studies and a block focusing on math/science. Interspersed in the day would be PE, art/music and lunch. Students would also have a morning and afternoon WIN (what I need) class, where they could focus on areas that need more attention.

Over the course of two years, students will experience eight different literacy models, but students won’t skip a grade level, said Karen Carlson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at the district.

Math education would be structured to allow for multi-age class instruction, so a second grader with a third grade math ability might be put in a group with students of the same ability, regardless of age. Students would not be put in a lower grade level.

Continued concern

Parents were also concerned that having students grouped by ability might leave other students behind, in that some students learn from other students. And, for some students who are challenged or who have IEP’s it could mean they are always in a lower-level grouping. The groupings could have a negative impact on self-esteem, along with educational growth, several parents said.

Laura Bach spoke on behalf of the parents with special education students. She said parents have worked very hard to have their children included and accepted, not shoved away in another classroom, as was done in the 1970s. Change is more difficult for special needs students, she said.

Several parents said the lack of information has caused concern among the community and as one parent said, “was freaking people out and has created a communication nightmare.”

Parent Stephanie Clark questioned why parents weren’t more involved. Though they might not be able to participate in the Think Tank, parents deserved to be involved in the process, she said.

“How can you realistically change the model and the way teachers teach in such a short amount of time,” Clark said.

The next steps for the district would be to bring the Think Tank discussion back to the board at a later date, yet to be set. Parents have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes again at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the district’s offices.

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Bc November 28, 2012 at 04:03 AM
What a mess
Frank G November 28, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Is it 1pm Tuesday November 27th or 1pm Friday November 30th? Please correct the day/date.
Steve Seaney November 28, 2012 at 01:50 PM
There was an interesting program on WBEZ last night that covered the STEM teaching strategy. A link to the program is: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/search/node/Education%20Beyond%20Talk:%20The%20Amazing%20Impact%20of%20Learning%20by%20Doing The STEM panel stressed the need for a solid training program to help the faculty and teachers move from standard training methods to the more hands-on training approach. I believe district 41 commented the training might be completed as part of a SIP day in March. I actually think STEM sounds like an interesting approach to teaching science and engineering, but the training program will be critical to a successful deployment. I do not believe the STEM panel on WBEZ indicated there was a need for the sweeping organizational changes proposed by the think tank. Over the past few years the District has had a difficult time implementing small changes to the curriculum. If accepted, the sweeping changes proposed need a solid deployment plan, realistic schedule, clear budget, and accountable manager. Steve
Mary Ann Lopez November 28, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Frank, an error in the date was put in the story during editing. There was a meeting yesterday, Tuesday (Nov. 27) at 1 p.m. The next meeting is 7 p.m. Dec. 4. Thank you for pointing that out. I have made changes.
MMB November 28, 2012 at 02:34 PM
I agree with Steves last comment. However I wonder if parents looked at the K-5 certification of current teachers to see if the state has designated them with specialty area? My bet is that most or all don't! I could see this approach benefitting the minority and not majority. Good luck explaining this program to new homeowners moving from out of state.
Bonnie Park November 28, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Kudos to the district for embracing change and trying to determine a system that's best for students. K-5 certification is generic and covers all areas of teaching. Nevertheless, having a teacher who 'loves' to teach one of the subject areas will only bring more excitement in the classroom and allow appropriate rigor for ALL students.
Ramona November 28, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I see this as a better plan for 4 and 5th graders, perhaps a bit in 3rd. They did a bit of this anyway at tnose grades. Younger kids need to be more secure in the classroom, tend not to like transitions as much, and will tune out if over whelmed. I would not want my 1st grader with a high schooler's schedule, switching classrooms and such.
Bc November 28, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Well the last curriculum was determined "best" for the students... How many more times will we implement the "best"? I have no issue with increasing focus in these subjects, just the radical change they feel is necessary. There is no opportunity for kids to rise to the next level if they are grouped by ability - low stays low and average stays average. We do not have a failing district and no team, company or organization would change a successful strategy without a guarantee of success. We have no track record of implementing change successfully.
Steve Seaney November 28, 2012 at 05:25 PM
One of the advantages of the program is the 'extra' time teachers will have to meet with their colleagues on the curriculum. This sounds promising at first, but it's unclear where the time will come from. If the teachers are spending the same amount of time at work each day, doesn't this mean student to teacher ratio will need increase? Has anyone heard a clear answer how where the increased admin time will come from? Steve
Dayna Moorhead November 29, 2012 at 03:13 AM
We were told during the parent info session on November 27th that the classes for the literacy block would not be leveled by ability, they would be assigned in the same manner they are today, but they would include children from the two grades. So, the teacher would need to teach children in his / her classroom which span two full grade levels. I cannot begin to imagine how that would be better than today where a teacher only has one grade to teach via guided reading groups, etc.
Dayna Moorhead November 29, 2012 at 03:15 AM
Great question. I do not believe that question was raised at either the board meeting or the parent info session. It would be worth submitting to the board to be considered as part of their effort to "process" all of our questions / comments.
Michelle December 01, 2012 at 04:14 PM
We just moved here from out of state and I wish we had been more informed about these drastic changes before we signed on the dotted line. Maybe choosing Glen Ellyn for the reported school ranking and grades was a huge financial mistake for our family. Hopefully the community can pull together and have a voice in making the correct and most appropriate decisions for our children. We pay such high taxes for these programs, we should have a voice that is heard and considered.
Bruce Currie December 06, 2012 at 04:04 AM
From the meeting last night(12/4/12), the students would leveled by ability in Literacy. She showed a graphic of the MAP scores for second and third grade students combined. There is overlap, so as she explained it, some students would come from the very high group, some from the middle group, and others from the high part of the low group. Other students would be grouped from the low, middle and middle high area of the MAP score, but not the high group. There would be three levels in a class. Mrs. Dettinger, a Lincoln second grade teacher on the Think Tank Committee, indicated that she currently has 8 groups in her Guided Reading groups and she cannot get to all of the groups with the amount of detail she needs. I do not think that she is required to have 8 groups, I think she could have 3, 4, or 5 groups and maybe meet with a few more kids per group. I think other teachers are doing this in the District. I know that is how I do it in my classroom in Joliet. That way you can meet with every group everyday and give students what they need, when they need it. I Ms. Riebock said that this was heterogeneous grouping. The definition of heterogeneous: consisting of dissimilar or diverse ingredients or constituents. This is not heterogeneous grouping of students, which is considered best practice by most scholars.
Bruce Currie December 06, 2012 at 06:03 AM
Bruce Currie 12:01 am on Thursday, December 6, 2012 Here is a forum of concerned parents and teachers that want to look closely at the questions that are arising from the Think Tank proposals. They do not all come from me (Bruce Currie) but I am just barely learning how to do this Facebook stuff and we felt the need to get something up quickly. By joining this group, it does not mean that you agree or disagree with this group. We encourage open and respectful dialogue in order to figure out the impact that the proposed changes to our schools will have on the most important people in our lives. We encourage responses from District 41, Superintendent Riebock, Staff, Teachers and Board members to answer, ask or challenge our questions. Please participate Glen Ellyn, this is important! Why41@groups.facebook.com

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