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Article posted: 8/1/2013 7:04 PM

Dist. 303 Davis/Richmond lawsuit testimony concludes

By James Fuller

A decision that may transform St. Charles Unit District 303's grade level centers back into elementary schools now rests in the hands of a Kane County judge following three hours of the district's head official on the hot seat Thursday.

Testimony concluded Thursday afternoon on a lawsuit originally filed in 2011 to stop the conversion of Davis and Richmond Elementary schools into grade level centers. The lawsuit was originally dismissed, but an appellate court reactivated the complaint last summer. A week's worth of evidence and testimony was capped with intense questioning of Superintendent Don Schlomann's motives for proposing the grade level center setup two years ago.

The foundations of the lawsuit have always contended school officials moved to grade level centers to circumvent the repercussions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Richmond Elementary had already lost 25 percent of its students at the time of the decision. School choice was forced on the district when test scores for some of Richmond's students with limited English proficiency repeatedly failed to hit federal achievement targets called Adequate Yearly Progress. Davis was also set to be hit with a failing tag at the time of the 2011 decision.

Despite that, Schlomann testified Thursday the decision was about the responsible use of resources, not avoidance of federal mandates.

"The board and myself are not focused on AYP," Schlomann said.

And, even if making AYP was the goal, merging the two schools into grade level centers would not have hit the target, Schlomann said. The concentration of high scoring students at Davis Elementary in the key target groups was simply too small to raise the overall test scores when combined with an exponentially larger number of their peers at Richmond, Schlomann said.

"It is mathematically not feasible," Schlomann said. "It would not have made sense to expect for (AYP achievement) to occur."

Under cross examination, Schlomann agreed the decision to move to grade level centers was "quick", but he denied that it was hasty. Indeed, Schlomann said school officials began recruiting teachers over to the plan even before the school board took a vote. He said that behind-the-scenes work was necessary at the time to see if the conversion would even be possible.

Tim Dwyer, the attorney for the plaintiff, led Schlomann down a line of questioning that implied school officials may have felt the heat of possibly also having dozens of parents from Davis Elementary opt for school choice if Davis continued on the path to qualify as a "failing school" under the No Child Left Behind Act. Schlomann said that wasn't true, and he doubted many parents would have opted to leave Davis even if it was tagged as a failing school.

The decision about possibly reconfiguring the schools once again is now up to Judge David Akemann. Attorneys for both side will first submit a report to Akemann summarizing their points and how they believe the judge should rule. The reports are due Aug. 12.

Schlomann testified Thursday it would be possible to restore the schools back to their former status, but it would take a lot of legwork and explanations to parents, students and teachers.

"I would feel sad," Schlomann said. "But if the court ordered it, I would perform it."

There is no timetable for Akemann's decision, but classes resume in District 303 on Aug. 21.

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