Elk Grove lets District 59, residents air out concerns over curriculum, test scores
Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 administrators defended the district's record Tuesday in light of growing criticism from a community group upset with the curriculum and declining test scores.
While the critiques of residents who reside within District 59 boundaries may not be new -- they've been coming to school board meetings since April 2017 -- the forum for where those concerns were heard Tuesday night was different.
During a wide-ranging discussion that spanned more than two hours, the community group led by spokeswoman Mary Vickers and District 59 administrators led by Superintendent Art Fessler each presented before the Elk Grove Village board, who invited both sides.
Vickers and other residents came to a village board meeting last month to speak during public comment. And while Mayor Craig Johnson said the board meeting wasn't the right forum for the village itself -- as a separate governing body -- to hear concerns about District 59, he later agreed to host what he characterized as an "informational meeting," not a debate.
"It may be the first time we've ever done something like this," Johnson said.
"Normally, we don't get involved in other local governments' issues. It's not proper."
Vickers, a retired teacher from Arlington Heights, called the district curriculum "weak," taking particular issue with a "one way" dual language program. In that program, enrollment is limited to native Spanish speakers, compared to the district's smaller "two way" program that includes both Spanish and English speakers. Vickers also decried declining District 59 test scores on PARCC and other assessments and how those numbers could affect property values.
"Realtors have told me that when young people want to buy a house, they look on their cellphones and look at the scores of schools," Vickers said.
"Like it or not, that's the reality. It's an important reason why people choose or do not choose the community."
In response to residents' critiques on curriculum, Fessler said that since he came to the district six years ago, there has been more emphasis on students' learning experiences and greater focus on "what you can do versus what you can know or repeat."
"I think we recognize the education of the past -- where teachers are doing all of the talking, kids are only using a single source resource textbook, taking tests and repeating information -- that's not going to prepare kids for their futures."
Concerning the dual language program, the district would like to expand the "two way" program, but that would mean hiring more staff members with the necessary skills, and they're increasingly hard to find, Fessler said.
On test scores, Fessler said the district's population of students who are English language learners and who come from low-income households correlate to how the district ranks.
But he also said those District 59 students -- when they get to high school -- perform as well or better than similar students from other area elementary districts.
Fessler also said he expects District 59 to fare much better when new PARCC scores are released next week, since they will take into consideration student growth on tests -- not only proficiency.