River Trails District 26 parents speak out against grade level centers
A proposal to replace elementary schools with grade level centers in Mount Prospect-based River Trails Elementary District 26 was opposed by dozens of parents and community members who packed a school board meeting Tuesday.
Combining kindergarten through second grade at the existing Euclid Elementary and grades 3-5 at Indian Grove Elementary is one option the board is considering to deal with overcrowding in the district.
The proposal also comes after voters in April rejected plans to borrow $19 million to expand Park View School so it could hold kindergarten and preschool classes and free up space at the two elementary schools. A $27 million request by referendum to build an early learning center also failed in 2015.
District officials say that by combining grades, the highest average class size would be 21 students in grades K-2, and 24 in grades 3-5.
Were the traditional elementary schools to stay in place, class sizes would grow to 22 students in K-2, and 26-27 in grades 3-5, they say.
Another option the school board is considering is to move all kindergarten classes -- now held at the two elementary buildings -- to Park View, while preschool classes would move from Park View back to the elementaries. As a result, it could cost $1 million to make building renovations to Park View.
Park View also houses the district administrative offices and a Montessori school, but that organization's lease expires at the end of this week.
Another "hybrid" model introduced Tuesday by Superintendent Nancy Wagner would implement grade level centers and a centralized kindergarten center. She said it would eliminate overcrowding but still come with the cost of making building renovations.
"I think in a perfect world we'd all love to maintain our local schools with kindergarten through fifth grade," Wagner said. "We don't have room."
Wagner said the projected class size of 29 students in fifth grade next year is "not what people are used to in River Trails 26."
"That's really scary for us," she said. "We worry about giving kids the education they need."
But parents overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the possibility of grade level centers, with some two dozen speaking during 1½ hours of public comment Tuesday night. Kathy Sagris gave the board a petition of 245 people against the plan, saying it would hurt student academic performance and would do little to solve the overcrowding.
"How can this be the best option for our kids?" Sagris said.
Jim Meyer, a former District 26 board member and now retired Wheeling High School teacher, said the board looked at grade level centers in the late 1990s as enrollment was going up, but he believes it is cyclical.
"It goes up. It goes down," Meyer said. "I think moving kids around is just a bad idea."
Board President Frank Fiarito said he didn't support grade level centers when he ran for the board nine years ago, but he also said, "Never say never."
He said other options, such as mobile classrooms or larger class sizes, are not ideal, and grade level centers remain "one of the best options we have."
Board member Janine Freedlund said she did not like any of the options presented.
"We will have preschool kids -- the majority are special eds -- who will be kicked back to their home school, then kicked back to the kindergarten center, then kicked back to their home school," she said. "It's a lot of movement everywhere. No matter what we do, it's really awful."
The board is expected to vote on a plan July 16, with changes to take effect in the 2020-2021 school year.