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updated: 4/22/2014 12:01 AM

New learning support system coming to early grades in Dist. 203

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The youngest elementary students in Naperville Unit District 203 will be supported in a new way beginning next school year.

Administrators say the new method of helping students who are struggling to read, or challenging learners who already understand classroom material, will be more integrated, collaborative and flexible, as it will allow teams of teachers and assistants to together plan and provide the extra support or advancement.

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Under the new program, students who need help or challenges will be able to get those services not only from a specific assistant outside the classroom but from a teacher or assistant in the classroom in whatever way educators decide is most appropriate.

The changes will affect students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade at all 14 of the district's elementary schools.

"Our students will benefit from teachers' and assistants' ability to collaborate and respond to their needs more immediately," said Jennifer Hester, chief academic officer.

School board members unanimously approved staffing changes that will make the new system possible during a meeting Monday night, agreeing to lay off 31 full-time and 40 part-time assistants with a variety of job titles while creating 48 new full-time instructional assistant positions.

Under the new model, assistance and enrichment will be provided primarily in the classroom to connect directly with curriculum in subjects such as literacy and math, Hester said. The changes mean the end of the LEAP and K-LEAP early literacy intervention programs and the end of enrichment programs in which students are pulled out of their regular classroom for accelerated lessons.

"This proposal does not abandon or eliminate support for early literacy intervention ... or enrichment for students when appropriate," Superintendent Dan Bridges said. "The administration believes this will be more responsive to the learning needs of all students than the current system allows us to be."

Seven people spoke before the board vote opposing or questioning the proposed changes. Former educators said they were unsure so many levels of support and enrichment could be provided within one classroom, and parents voiced concerns that integrating assistants into classrooms would lead them to focus more on helping struggling students than enriching gifted ones.

"In voting for this change, you are eliminating known programs in favor of an ambiguous proposal that lacks accountability," parent Monique Clements said.

With the staffing changes approved, Deputy Superintendent Kaine Osburn said the district will begin informing current assistants how to apply for the 48 new positions. Osburn said 31 of them automatically will be recalled into the new positions and others will be able to apply as "leading candidates" because of their past expertise with the district.

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