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updated: 2/23/2010 10:26 AM

No easy answers in Dist. 26 grade center study

Research says grade center schools help kids find friends, but may cause emotional distress as well

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With grade centers, kids have a larger pool of peers to find friends and parents are more likely to support the entire school district and not just the school their children attend.

Then again, changing neighborhood schools into grade centers can cause emotional distress and families could have three children at three different schools - four if they also have a high-schooler.

Those are just two of the conclusions consultant James H. Warren found in his study of grade centers vs. neighborhood schools for River Trials Elementary District 26.

His report does not recommend a course of action - in it, Warren identifies 21 advantages and 21 disadvantages to switching to grade-level schools.

He also surveyed District 26 parents for whom the proposal has generated some emotional responses.

School board members haven't publicly talking about the report yet, but probably will at the March 2 board meeting, said board President Jeff Bradley.

"I thought the study was a very good and an independent report of the pros and the cons," said Bradley, who declines to say if he supports one way or the other.

"On March 2, the board will probably set a special meeting for a lengthy community conversation," he added.

The full report, including the 21 pros and 21 cons, is available at rtsd26.org.

On the "pro" side is sharing resources and saving about $200,000 annually by eliminating four staff members.

Disadvantages include spending an additional $162,000 on buses and having fewer extracurricular sports teams.

District 26's two elementary schools are Euclid and Indian Grove. About half of Euclid's student body is Hispanic compared to less than 10 percent of Indian Grove's students. If grade centers were implemented, all prekindergarten through second graders would go to either Euclid or Indian Grove and all third through fifth graders would attend the other school.

River Trails is the only middle school and wouldn't be affected.

Most of the people who have spoken at board meetings are against grade centers and the survey reflected that trend.

From Oct. 1 to Dec. 21, about 400 people took the District 26 survey about grade centers. Twenty-four percent were from Euclid, 59 percent were from Indian Grove and 14 percent were from outside the district.

About 81 percent favored neighborhood schools, which is "an overwhelmingly high percent of people who support the current neighborhood school configuration," according to the report.

About 40 percent of the respondents would be open to the idea of grade centers if it would mean significant cost savings and improved or identical educational programs.

District 26 has about 2,500 students. Many parents didn't answer the survey or attend a board meeting, Bradley said.

"We are charged with doing the best thing for all students," he said. "I don't think the entire public opinion is expressed at the meetings. I talk to people at the grocery store and in public all the time. There are a lot of opinions on this."

Superintendent Dane Delli also declined to give his opinion.

"I want to make sure the school board has read through the study and has enough time to get their questions answered, so at this point, I would respectfully like to not answer that question," Delli said.

Meanwhile, parents are anxious to hear what board members think.

"People don't want grade-level centers," said parent Dan Miller. "Nothing academically shows that they are better. If anything, they are worse because transitions have a negative effect on school performance."

"It wasn't worth $18,000," said Peggy Tsevis, who supports neighborhood schools. "The disadvantages he lists are much stronger than the advantages. And some of those advantages are a real stretch."

On academics, Warren's report says each grade center would have more activities and better school libraries because the school's material would be more concentrated. There's nothing in the report that indicates directly how the configuration might affect test scores or student learning.

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