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Article updated: 3/10/2013 11:21 AM

Glen Ellyn parents hesitant about change in school structure

By Marie Wilson

Two days before the Glen Ellyn District 41 school board is scheduled to vote on a new structure for elementary education that includes multi-age classes, board members met with almost 100 parents Saturday morning, many of them concerned implementation of the new structure is moving too fast.

The proposal for a new elementary teaching structure, called the Think Tank, has become controversial as it calls for the combination of second- and third-grade, and fourth- and fifth-grade classes as well as teacher specialization in either literacy/social studies or STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

The Think Tank proposal would be implemented gradually beginning next school year, but each of the district's four elementary schools is set to move at its own pace based on teacher readiness, district officials said Saturday.

The majority of parents who attended a forum Saturday have children at Lincoln School, which would be the only location to implement both teacher specialization and grade groupings in full for grades two through five under the district's proposal.

Parents including Bruce Currie said they worry the plan to combine grade levels, especially for the younger second- and third-grade students, has not been developed well enough to be effective next year.

"I definitely feel like my daughter is going to be an experiment at Lincoln, and that worries me," said Currie, whose daughter is in second grade.

While some parents said they thought their students would benefit from combined age classrooms, others said they are unsure children so young will have the social and emotional support they need in such an environment.

School board President Erica Nelson said the social/emotional piece of the plan has been discussed thoroughly and teachers will strive to make sure their students still have a sense of classroom community, even if they spend time in two rooms a day -- one for their literacy/social studies education and the other for STEAM subjects.

The district is looking to change the structure of its elementary education -- but not its curriculum -- under the Think Tank plan to progress toward a 21st century learning environment and prepare students for the new, more rigorous Common Core standards.

"We're not just doing this for the Common Core," board member John Kenwood said Saturday, adding the Think Tank also aims to develop students who will be better prepared for college and careers. "We need to ramp up our standards whether it's the Common Core or not."

Parents including Lora and Dan Bak said the proposal would have more support if it were uniform across Lincoln, Churchill, Forest Glen and Benjamin Franklin schools and if the district explained how staff will transition students into Hadley Junior High after they leave the Think Tank elementary environment.

Parents also asked Saturday if it would be possible to move forward with some aspects of the Think Tank proposal but not others.

Board members said they will be voting on the proposal as a whole, not piece by piece, during a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Hadley Junior High.

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