Dist. 26 mulls dropping neighborhood schools for grade-level centers

Updated 1/26/2010 5:35 PM

District 26 officials have answered 360 written questions about grade-center schools, but questions still linger for some parents.

"The school board is only looking at one option," said Bobbi Viegas-Miller, who prefers the Mount Prospect district retain its two neighborhood schools instead of turning one into a pre-kindergarten-second-grade center and housing third- through fifth-graders at the other.

"Like me, a lot of parents moved to the area because of the neighborhood schools," she added. "I live three blocks from Indian Grove and my kids might not go there."

River Trails Elementary District 26 spent $18,000 to hire consultant James H. Warren to study whether switching to grade-center schools would be advantageous for the district. Warren will make his report to the school board on Feb. 16.

No decision will be made at that meeting, said Superintendent Dane Delli.

District 26's two elementary schools are Euclid and Indian Grove. River Trails, which wouldn't be affected, is the only middle school.

About half of Euclid's student body is Hispanic compared to less than 10 percent of Indian Grove's students.

The move to grade-center schools would be a financial one, not because of low test scores at Euclid, Delli said.

"Euclid is not the problem, which is what some people think because the schools have two different racial and social makeups," Delli said. "We would not shortchange Euclid and we don't spend more resources there. There are some perceptions that Euclid has low test scores but that's not the case."

In 2007 all three schools met the annual yearly progress standards. In 2008, Euclid and River Trails didn't make AYP because of the reading scores of some subgroups. In 2009, all three schools again made AYP, Delli said.

Delli won't express his own opinion until the study is complete. He said there are pros and cons to both systems.

"Right now we have second grade teachers and second grade curriculums at Euclid and Indian Grove," he said. "There is research that says combining everyone together in one building helps instruction."

Viegas-Miller, meanwhile, argues there are studies that say grade-centered schools can cause delinquent behavior and lower grades. She was one of more than 150 parents who attended a District 26 school board meeting on Monday.

To protest the move, she and some other parents started better26.org and a petition drive that has 600 signatures.

Jeff Bradley, president of the District 26 school board, said his board doesn't know much about the financials yet.

"This is not a done deal and I don't know a single person on the board who has made up (his or her) mind," Bradley said. "We all want to see the final report. As a school board we would be remiss if we didn't discuss this."

District 26 has about 2,500 students and about 250 full- and part-time staff members.

Most elementary districts in the area use neighborhood schools, including Arlington Heights District 25, Mount Prospect District 57 and Des Plaines District 62.

The Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 school board may talk about switching to grade-center schools in the next couple of years to save money, say District 21 officials.