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updated: 10/19/2010 5:49 PM

Dist. 33 wants to expand middle school

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  • Thirty-one students make for some cramped conditions in this sixth-grade classroom at Turner Elementary School in West Chicago. The school district wants to borrow $39 million to expand the middle school to include sixth grade.

      Thirty-one students make for some cramped conditions in this sixth-grade classroom at Turner Elementary School in West Chicago. The school district wants to borrow $39 million to expand the middle school to include sixth grade.
    Bev Horne

  • Sixth-grade teacher Steve Brugmann has 28 students in his class at Turner Elementary School in West Chicago.

       Sixth-grade teacher Steve Brugmann has 28 students in his class at Turner Elementary School in West Chicago.
    BEV HORNE | Staff Photographer

 
 

Sixth-graders are a breed apart in elementary school, many educators say.

Their bodies are bigger, their hormones are raging and academically, they are ready for a challenge beyond the self-contained classroom.

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"They are pent up and ready to bust out, said Ed Leman, superintendent of West Chicago Elementary School District 33.

That's why 91 percent of the middle schools in DuPage County include sixth grade. District 33 is an exception.

Now, a perfect storm of circumstances previous debt ready to be paid off, rising enrollment at all grade levels and low construction costs has convinced officials to go back to the voters.

The district is asking voters Nov. 2 to borrow $39 million to build an addition to West Chicago Middle School and do limited renovations at some elementary buildings. That's $10 million less than the district asked for in April 2009 in a ballot question that voters rejected

The project would not raise the tax rate, but instead extends the current tax rate for 20 years.

Without the new loan, the owners of a $200,000 house would see their tax bills drop roughly $140 a year starting with the May 2011 bill.

The second town hall meeting on the referendum is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, in the library at West Chicago Middle School, 238 E. Hazel St.

"We feel that (the project) is a very good and cost-effective solution to both the programming desires and enrollment needs, Leman said.

Enrollment has been rising steadily in District 33 for the past 20 years, and the district has absorbed 552 students since the last time it added space. The district is using some mobile classrooms and has converted some library space in most elementary schools to classroom or computer lab space.

Moving the sixth-graders to the middle school will free space in the elementary schools. Sixth-graders will benefit from higher level programming, including more rigor in academic subjects, increased extracurricular opportunities including interscholastic sports and exploratory classes such as fine arts, consumer science and career technology, officials said.

The 140,000-square-foot addition would include additional classroom and lab space and a cafeteria/auditorium,

"We want to build a lasting building, but it won't have a lot of bells and whistles, Leman said. "That's what's appropriate for our community.

Depending on finances, the district may need to start the sixth-graders at the middle school in self-contained classrooms and then gradually add the staff to provide a full middle school program, Leman said.

"It's not a cheaper model, Leman said. "It's better, but it's not cheaper.

Without the middle school expansion, the district may need to change attendance boundaries or consider a rotating school calendar, officials said.

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