Controversial plan to reshape District 59 schools up for vote Dec. 12
Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 school board members are set to vote next month on a controversial proposal that would reconfigure elementary schools as grade level centers, redistrict some areas, and repurpose the popular year-round Ridge Family Center for Learning into a preschool.
It's all part of the equity journey initiative of Superintendent Terri Bresnahan, who took the helm of the district in July 2021 and identified areas of improvement after a demographic study, and enrollment and facility analysis.
Bresnahan said the plan, which will be formally considered by the school board Dec. 12, would ensure all 6,000 students across 15 schools have equitable access to resources and opportunities. But it faces backlash from some parents who don't want their kids uprooted from existing K-5 elementary schools in lieu of new K-2 and 3-5 groupings.
"Right now there is a strong correlation between student outcomes and the school in District 59 in which your child attends. That should not exist," Bresnahan said. "And our goal in this work, and what equity means to me and all of these components that we're looking at, is to ensure that regardless of where our children attend in District 59, that they all have access to what they need to be successful and they have that opportunity to be in a diverse and thriving environment."
Under the plan, the district's 10 elementary schools would become five primary schools (grades K-2) and five intermediate schools (grades 3-5). Brentwood (K-2) would be paired with Devonshire (3-5), Forest View (K-2) with Juliette Low (3-5), John Jay (K-2) with Frost (3-5), Rupley (K-2) with Salt Creek (3-5), and Clearmont (K-2) with Admiral Byrd (3-5). Officials would also adjust school boundaries for the newly configured schools and three junior high schools to alleviate overcrowding in certain areas and better balance the district's demographics. Ridge -- District 59's school of choice that operates on a balanced calendar -- would be closed to make way for an early learning center on the south end of the district. Another district preschool operates on the north end.
Citing eight areas of improvement, Bresnahan said there's demographic imbalances, fluctuating class sizes, enrollment differences and programming variations from building to building. For example, Byrd school has a 76% majority Hispanic population, and Clearmont is 78% white. Eight schools are either underutilized, or don't have enough space. And some classrooms have as few as nine students, while others have as many as 32, officials said.
Bresnahan called the proposal "a greater balancing of our students across programs, needs and demographics."
Longtime board member Mardell Schumacher has emerged as the chief opponent of the plan, saying the district shouldn't shut down Ridge -- which has good test scores -- while Bresnahan and her administrative team should focus on one or two areas to improve instead of jumping into full-scale changes.
"Some of the areas that have been inequitable have been the same for three decades I've been on the board," Schumacher said. "I don't consider them inequitable at all. I consider them -- we handle the problem that comes along and we solve it in the best way. ... You're not going to change completely whatever these eight things are. They just aren't all changeable."
Board member Joseph Sagerer has defended the plans, saying there's more demand at some schools for educational interventions to help struggling students. The alternative plan, he said, would be to close some schools and expand others, while the pairings use existing infrastructure and happen quicker.
"The entire point of this equity journey, at least for me personally, is not necessarily to make numbers balance, but to make sure that resources get to the kids where they need them, and which school you go to as a child should not determine what resources you can get," Sagerer said. "When we're busing kids around, we are concentrating low income students and school poverty in certain locations. It's about the worst way to bus students that you can possibly think of. If we were trying to maintain equity gaps, this might be the way we set things up."
"If we don't rebalance the schools, then we're just setting up those kids to fail," he added.
If approved next month, the plan would go into effect for the 2023-24 school year.