Despite pleas from dozens of parents, the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board Monday night denied a proposal to create a new math and science elementary charter school in Elgin.
Board members were conflicted yet unrelenting even after nearly two hours of public comments. The vote was 6-1 to deny the Elgin Charter School Initiative's proposal, which drew boos from the crowd.
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"This is not the only hard decision we make. They happen all the time," school board President Donna Smith said, summing up how difficult the process has been for the board.
Board member Veronica Noland, who voted against denial, said the board should work collaboratively with the charter group and take a chance on creating the school as an experiment.
"We are a huge organization," she said. "The wheels of change in U-46 do not move quickly. I reject the idea that this opens the floodgates."
Noland said the charter would be only a five-year commitment and the board would have the opportunity to review its success.
The proposed Elgin Math and Science Academy charter school would have offered kindergarten through second-grade classes in the first year and eventually expanded to eighth grade.
Supporters of the proposal said they were tired of the district's poor academic results and reputation and wanted an alternative educational option for their children.
The charter group targeted Elgin for the proposed school because eight of 10 U-46 schools under restructuring are in Elgin.
Parent Rick Newton says it's not a coincidence that 60 percent of the students in the eight failing elementary schools didn't meet the ISAT standards last year in math and language arts.
Many parents said they are considering moving out of district because of the district's poor results.
"We weren't really ready to give up on U-46," said Caty Hernandez, a U-46 graduate and parent who is the last member of her family to remain in Elgin. "As a mom, I need to see some dynamic innovative change. I need to know that I didn't make a mistake staying in Elgin."
Several board members took issue with parents' characterization of U-46 schools as failing.
"There has never been a lack of will or desire to be innovative in this district," said school board Vice President Amy Kerber, who has three children attending U-46 schools.
Kerber said the district has maintained robust offerings of enrichment programs for students at different grade levels and that test scores alone are not a good measure of how schools are doing.
"We are working in a punitive education environment where numbers don't tell the whole story," Kerber said. "Please judge our schools on our people and not numbers. The majority of our teachers are relentless."
Board member Maria Bidelman said public schools are failing because educators are being consumed by preparing students for standardized tests. She urged the charter group to work with the board to find options to increase science, technology, engineering and math education for all students.
"I cannot support a program that reaches so few and takes opportunities away from all students," she said.
Krissy Palermo, a member of the charter design team, said the group will be appealing the school board's decision with the state.
"We will not give up," she said. "We will take it to the next level. ... That's how strongly we believe in this program."
The group has 30 days to appeal with the state.