Why elementary boundaries could change in District 204

 
 
Updated 1/27/2016 6:33 AM
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  • Some students could be moved out of Watts Elementary School as Indian Prairie Unit District 204 tries to address crowding, especially with four new subdivisions.

      Some students could be moved out of Watts Elementary School as Indian Prairie Unit District 204 tries to address crowding, especially with four new subdivisions. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, 2014

The combination of overcrowding at two elementary schools and the development of four subdivisions in Aurora and Naperville is causing Indian Prairie Unit District 204 to pursue changes to its attendance boundaries.

A new proposal from administrators would move students in the Ashton Pointe subdivision in Aurora from Brooks Elementary to Young Elementary and shift students in the Brittany Springs apartment complex and Carrolwood subdivision in Naperville from Watts Elementary to Owen Elementary.

It also would move students from three subdivisions that are under construction. Residents of Metro 59 apartments, Union Square townhouses and Station Boulevard apartments in Aurora would be moved from Watts to Young or Kendall elementary schools, while residents of the future Atwater subdivision in Naperville would remain assigned to Steck Elementary as planned.

Laura Devine Johnston, assistant superintendent for elementary teaching and learning, said the changes would lessen space constraints at Brooks and Watts, both of which are serving more than 675 students -- the architect's estimate of how many the schools can hold without having to use art and music spaces as regular classrooms.

Brooks has 816 students and has begun to use art and music rooms for core instruction. Watts has 739 students and "is just one class away from doing that as well," Johnston said.

"We really need to give Brooks and Watts some relief," Superintendent Karen Sullivan said.

The schools that would accept more kids beginning next year all have fewer than 675 students. Young has 571, Owen has 478, Kendall has 328 and Steck has 594.

School board President Lori Price said members have been monitoring the overcrowding at Brooks and Watts, and she appreciates administrators' work to come up with a solution.

While other school board members say they understand the importance of decreasing the population at the two crowded schools, they aren't yet sure of the best way to redistribute students.

"Obviously the capacity issues are the main concern," school board member Justin Karubas said. "We need to make a decision for next year, so options are limited."

One concern with the proposal is it requires some students to be bused past one elementary school to another building farther away.

School board member Michael Raczak said the district is getting too far from the concept of "neighborhood schools" and should try to readjust so students won't have to travel so far to classes.

"What gets us to the point that says it's time to look now so that we don't have to transport kids on a 20-minute bus ride?" Raczak said. "Can we get kids closer to their home based on our density levels?"

Johnston and Jay Strang, chief school business official, said the proposed boundary adjustments are meant as a short-term fix to balance elementary populations until the district can take a broader look at attendance areas.

Strang said it would be best to wait until more housing development is complete before conducting a widespread redistribution of students among the district's 34 buildings.

For now, Johnston and Strang said shifting elementary attendance areas would be cost-neutral and would affect the least students while still decreasing overcrowding. It wouldn't involve any changes to middle school or high school attendance areas.

But school board member Mark Rising said the idea creates concerns for future overcrowding at Granger Middle School and Metea Valley High School, and those concerns should be addressed before choosing to move any boundaries.

Rising and school board member Maria Curry said diversity and class sizes also should be taken into account to ensure the district doesn't create oversized classes or shift all of its minority students to a handful of its schools.

The school board plans to schedule a workshop to discuss boundaries before its meeting Feb. 16, the earliest a vote could be taken. Until then, members say they are listening to parent concerns and seeking the best solution.

"There's a reason why we do this in at least a two-part process," Karubas said, "so we get some more input from the community."

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