Naperville Unit District 203 school board members bought themselves more time to think about possible staffing changes that could allow a new model of support and enrichment for students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade.
The board was scheduled to vote Monday night on the elimination of 31 full-time and 40 part-time staff members who are reading assistants, enrichment assistants or assistants in early literacy intervention programs called LEAP and K-LEAP for kindergartners.
Administrators propose replacing those positions with 48 full-time instructional assistants who would work largely in the classroom under a philosophy of integrated support instead of the current model that pulls children out of the classroom for extra help or extra challenges.
"Our goal is for all students to learn the content skills in our curriculum through whole-group and small-group instruction," Superintendent Dan Bridges said. "We need a system where teachers and teaching assistants can respond to student needs and monitor progress."
Bridges said administrators worked carefully with the Naperville Educational Support Professionals Association, the union representing the assistants that could be cut, to develop the new educational support model. But he said the district "missed the target" on informing parents about the proposed changes.
"We did not communicate well with other stakeholders," Bridges said.
That's why he recommended board members wait until April 21 to vote on the staffing cuts and new positions needed for a possible change to in-classroom support.
Several parents and former educators who oppose the change said they are glad the board is taking more time to scrutinize the proposal, which would end the LEAP programs. Winnie Jones, a retired LEAP tutor whose children and grandchildren have attended District 203, said the 35 minutes of daily individual instruction students receive through LEAP will be hard to replace in the classroom, where struggling students might be easily distracted.
"At a time when the rigors of the Common Core state standards will make reading even more challenging, are we giving up a time-tested and data-driven program in the hopes of something better?" Jones said.
She and nine others spoke Monday night, some calling for continuation of LEAP, others asking for more data to prove the benefits of in-classroom support, and others voicing concerns that gifted students might not get the advanced instruction they need if assistants are busy helping struggling students or dealing with behavior problems.
Deputy Superintendent Kaine Osburn said administrators will return to the April 21 meeting with details about measurements the district will use to gauge success of the proposed new program and estimates of how many hours students will have contact with teaching professionals under the proposed model.
Kitty Ryan, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said the full-time assistants the district wants to hire each would spend five hours a day in the classroom, while assistants in the LEAP program work three hours and 45 minutes each day, but spend only about half that time with students.
"The new model has assistants working with students a great deal more than they presently do," Ryan said.