Asian community questions Dist.203 boundary plans

Updated 2/2/2012 5:58 PM

Proposed boundary changes in Naperville Unit District 203 have sparked steady criticism from many families at Highlands Elementary School.

But one particular group, members of Highlands' Asian population, believes it is being unfairly singled out in the proposed boundary changes.

Several Highlands parents who have spoken out in recent weeks say they understand boundaries need to change, and they support moves to end overcrowding at Beebe and Mill Street elementary schools. But they don't believe the proposed swaps makes sense for their school because it is not over capacity and isn't being used to alleviate overcrowding at other schools.

Enrollment projections show Highlands is right at its capacity of 600 students. Consultants provided the district with low, medium and high enrollment projections for the next five years that show the school staying under capacity if nearly all the low or medium projections become reality. It would be over capacity as soon as next year if the high-end projections came true.

But nearly one-third of the possible 176 Highlands students living east of Naper Boulevard who likely will be moved to Meadow Glens are Asian.

Simon Zhang, former principal of the Ray Chinese School operating out of Kennedy Junior High, said he speaks on behalf of the Asian community in opposition to such a shift.

"We are strongly against District 203's proposal to relocate families from Highlands and want to draw attention to a very important fact. Based on recently proposed maps and communication received from the district in the last few weeks, 49 Asian families may leave from Highlands," Zhang said. "At Highlands, Asian families currently represent 17 percent of the school population. If those proposals or maps are realized, 65 percent of current Highlands Asian families will be moved out from Highlands."

According to the school's 2011 Illinois State Report Card, Highlands has a 17.8 percent Asian population while the district average is 14.7 percent.

Zhang said reducing the school's Asian population to as little as 6 percent could have adverse effects on both the students left behind and the students being moved.

"These children live in the same neighborhoods. They share common culture. They study together. They play together," Zhang said. "Has the administration considered the Asian community is being unfairly singled out in the efforts to downsize Highlands?"

The short answer, according to district officials is "no." Finance Director Dave Zager, who was in charge of drawing the maps, said the administration intentionally did not consider ethnic communities during the mapping process.

"No, it wasn't considered. It wasn't evaluated and it wasn't looked at after it was done," Zager said. "It was intentional not to consider that at all. We have different (ethnic) proportions in different schools, but everybody learns."

Zager said he isn't concerned about the possible effects of decreasing the Asian population at Highlands.

"I don't know what the result is because we haven't looked at that at all," he said. "I guess I've just got to tell you that I don't think it's important. This district is full of smart children and they all learn."

The district will sponsor its fifth and final community open house to discuss the current proposal from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Madison Junior High School.

The district's enrollment and capacity committee will meet again Feb. 15 to discuss feedback from the forums before making an official presentation to the board on Feb. 21.

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