District 15: New school would help low-income students
As the population of low-income and minority students in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 has increased over the past 20 years, district officials say a proposed elementary school with supplemental social and education services could help students who don't readily have access to the resources some of their more affluent peers do.
The proposed three-story elementary school that would be built on land in Osage Park would serve 1,200 students in kindergarten through fifth grade as a community school. Construction of the building depends on a Nov. 8 referendum question asking voters to approve borrowing $130 million to build that school and a new middle school in Inverness.
The community school addresses the district's changing demographics, District 15 officials say.
In 1996, 15 percent of District 15 students qualified as low-income. That number rose to 48 percent by 2015. The percentage of minority students increased from 25 percent in 1996 to 60 percent in 2015.
Students of low-income and minority families often face challenges outside of school that can get in the way of their classroom learning, such as language barriers, lack of healthcare or needing extra help with schoolwork.
Melissa Mitchell, director of the Federation for Community Schools, says the community school model facilitates a strong relationship between the community and families to help ease those challenges.
The model brings resources for students and parents to a place with which families are already familiar -- school. She says there is evidence that the model works in slowly closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers.
"A community school recognizes that children cannot be academically successful if they carry nonacademic burdens with them," Mitchell said.
Each community school is unique, Mitchell says, as the needs and priorities of communities vary. In addition to family support, physical health and social-emotional health services, community schools offer programs that provide learning outside of school hours that doesn't replicate classroom learning.
A group of District 15 parents and community members advocating for the referendum question says residents of the northeast corner of Palatine deserve a school close to their homes.
"We need to help this at-risk and underserved population," said Kelly Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the group. "A lot of those students don't get to do after school activities now because their school is far away; this will get students and families involved."
Violeta Duvelo lives in the district's northeast corner, and she is excited her son might not have to spend 30-35 minutes on a bus every day just to get to school.
"If the school gets built, my son and other kids can walk to school," Duvelo said. She adds that she already sees a lot of diversity in terms of age and ethnicity in her neighborhood and believes the new elementary school would reflect that diversity.
The new elementary school would be District 15's second community school. After receiving a grant from the United Way, Winston Campus Junior High became a community school at the start of the 2015-16 school year.
Thompson says the program has been successful, but the services are too far from where families who need them live.
"Consequently, that is why we proposed building the school in northeast Palatine where many of our students live," Thompson said.
Critics of the district's proposal to borrow millions and build new schools said the location school would segregate a portion of the district's low-income and minority students from the rest of the population.
And while the community school would serve up to 1,200 of the district's low-income students, it doesn't help low-income students who don't live within the boundaries for the new school.
"If we would have a complete plan that this (new school) fits into, then there would be more support for that," said Scott Herr, a spokesman for the group urging voters to oppose the referendum question.
The group, Herr says, is not against the idea of a community school but believes the district didn't do enough research.
"The district has downplayed the importance of a demographic study, but when borrowing $130 million for the schools, you need to do that," Herr said.
And the high concentration of low-income and minority students in one school could have negative effects districtwide. Students from varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds benefit from learning side-by-side and from each other, Herr said, and the new school would take some of that away.