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updated: 9/19/2013 9:35 PM

Dist. 20 parents concerned about school reorganization plan

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Renewed talk about creating grade-level centers in Keeneyville Elementary District 20 has triggered concerns among some parents worried that children who now walk to classes soon could be bused to another school miles away.

District officials insist no decisions have been made, but say a shift to such centers could improve their educational programs and clear the way for the introduction of all-day kindergarten.

Officials considered a similar plan four years ago to reorganize the district's two elementary schools -- which serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade -- into grade-level centers. That move was scuttled by strong parental opposition.

The proposal surfaced again when officials began researching the possibility of starting a full-day kindergarten program next year.

"With the Common Core standards, we're very concerned that a half-day (kindergarten) program is not going to be enough time on task for students to master those standards," Superintendent Michael Connolly said Thursday.

Administrators say the grade-level centers might allow for full-day kindergarten to be introduced in a way that doesn't put additional strain on the district's limited financial resources.

However, Connolly stressed it's not an either-or situation.

"We're looking at it from both directions," he said. "Can we bring in a full-day kindergarten without going to grade centers? Do we need to do grade centers? What are maybe some of the benefits of both? So we're really taking a comprehensive look at it."

If approved by the school board, the grade-level center proposal would divide Waterbury Elementary in Roselle and Greenbrook Elementary in Hanover Park into one school serving kindergarten through second grade and the other serving third- through fifth-graders.

Spring Wood Middle School in Hanover Park would continue serving students in grades six through eight.

Connolly said the potential benefits of the grade-level center model include a greater opportunity for teacher collaboration and a more efficient use of resources. Having an entire grade level at one location also helps ensure curriculum and instruction is tailored to hold all students to the same standards.

"It really cuts down on the potential curricular and instructional drift that can occur when you have the same grade level in multiple locations," Connolly said.

While no decisions have been made, a group of Waterbury parents already are worried about the Roselle school becoming the grade-level center for kindergarten through second grade.

Waterbury parent Andrea Schnorr said it would be a dramatic change for her third-grade son, who currently walks two blocks to school.

"I moved to Roselle and that area because I wanted my kids to be able to walk to school," Schnorr said.

If her son gets bused to Greenbrook next year, he would have to get used to a new school, new teachers and a different routine. She said that's a lot for any child to deal with, especially when the district is implementing the Common Core learning standards.

Parent Dan Bruno, who has a fourth-grade daughter at Waterbury, said he doesn't see how students would get a better education if the change is made.

"There's insufficient data and evidence to support moving to grade-level centers," he said.

In order to make a case for full-day kindergarten and grade-level centers, Connolly said he has been studying both issues for months. He's expected to present his findings -- including potential costs and staffing needs -- during next week's school board meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Spring Wood Middle School, 5540 Arlington Drive East, Hanover Park.

The school board could take action as early as Oct. 24 on the full-day kindergarten and grade center proposals. A town-hall meeting is planned for Oct. 3.

Despite some parents voicing concerns about the timetable, Connolly stressed the district isn't working toward a predetermined outcome.

"I have been saying it to anybody who will listen to me," Connolly said. "This board has not made a decision. Whether or not people accept that is nothing I have control over."

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