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.
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.”
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.
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.