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updated: 12/20/2011 12:25 AM

Dist. 203 grants extension for redistricting suggestions

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A committee tasked with redrawing boundaries in Naperville Unit District 203 asked school officials Monday for more time to formulate recommendations due that night.

The board granted committee members time during their Jan. 11 meeting to agree on new maps, which are slated to come before the board on Jan. 23. Tentatively, the board will approve changes at its business meeting Feb. 21.

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But board members also spent more than two hours debating issues like how the committee should proceed with gathering community feedback, and whether changes should apply to the coming school year, or 2013-14.

Committee member Tom McGee said the Superintendent's Enrollment Capacity Study Group wants to expand and include more community representatives. The group also wants to schedule public feedback and informational meetings.

"(This) will, quite honestly, add some legitimacy knowing that every voice was heard," McGee said. "We have people who are really caring and passionate … about what's going on with these decisions."

The committee is charged with presenting a viable plan that addresses enrollment disparities within the 22-school district. This plan must support neighborhood schools, maximize facility use, limit transportation changes and affect the fewest of about 18,000 students as possible.

Board President Mike Jaensch said Monday the changes are necessary to alleviate overcrowding in some schools and low capacity in others, while also preparing District 203 to implement academic changes like full-day kindergarten and the nationwide Common Core curriculum.

"It's not simply because we have an imbalance in enrollment in some of our schools," Jaensch said. "We are in the process of a change in public schools. We have to change much of what we do in anticipation of that."

Parents and students packed the auditorium at Naperville Central High School, with more than 20 voicing concerns before the board.

District officials upset parents when they posted some potential boundary maps on their website Dec. 2 that included the closing of two schools. Several days later, officials apologized and said they didn't support the plan, but that it must be considered.

On Monday, the crowd gathered applauded at suggestions they should be more involved in the process.

"We want to work with you," parent Rick Tucker said. "We don't want to be pitchfork-wielding villagers. We are happy the to see the district … pushed back the decision."

Tucker argued that redistricting should be a last resort. Some parents suggested that representatives from subdivisions -- rather than schools -- should give input on how to redistrict in an effort to preserve their neighborhoods. Many also said forcing their children to change schools could take an emotional and academic toll.

But other parents, several from Mill Street and Beebe elementary schools, said redistricting is urgent. Kendra Panek has three children at Beebe and said the school is above capacity, forcing staff to take actions like using the windowless music room as a classroom and teaching ESL students in the hallways.

"I'm asking the district and the board to address this concern as quickly as possible," Panek said. "We cannot wait indefinitely and study and debate this issue to death."

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