UPDATE (1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22): LOCATION CHANGE TO: Phoenix Middle School Auditorium. All other information is the same.
DELAVAN — The Delavan-Darien School District Board of Education will review and likely make a final decision on a proposal to change school grading structures at a special meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 29, at the Phoenix Middle School Auditorium, 414 Beloit St., Delavan.
In efforts to improve educational outcomes for children and find financial savings, the board and administration have been considering changing what grades are housed in each of the district’s three elementary buildings. The plan could potentially save the district $500,000 annually, which would allow current programming to be maintained.
“We need to find a school structure that best meets the needs of all our students, better integrates our diverse student population, balances class sizes, provides the best learning opportunities possible, provides gifted and talented programs and activities, and saves the district financial resources,” said Superintendent Robert Crist, Ed.D. “I feel the proposal the board is considering achieves those goals and can set the district on a path toward a better future for our community’s learners. It will make us unique and allow us the flexibility to be extremely creative and innovative with how we educate our students.”
Currently, the district has a more traditional model of neighborhood elementary schools with Darien Elementary, Turtle Creek Elementary and Wileman Elementary each housing students from 4-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade. Early Childhood students are taught at Darien Elementary.
The “center schools” proposal calls for making Wileman Elementary a school for the youngest learners — Early Childhood through 5-year-old Kindergarten. Turtle Creek would house grades 1-3 and Darien would house grades 4-5. All students in a graduating class would be together with classmates from preschool through graduation.
All students who would attend Wileman would be bussed together on separate routes. The first through fifth graders would be bussed together in a “hub and spoke” system where all busses would travel to Turtle Creek. Fourth and fifth graders would take shuttle busses to/from there to/from Darien Elementary at the start and end of the school days. Only one additional bus would be needed under the proposal at a cost of about $39,000 annually.
Crist said that by eliminating the inter-district elementary boundaries, all teachers for a particular grade (seven or eight teachers) are together in one building. That means the model allows for each classroom to be balanced in number and by the educational learning needs and behaviors of students. By having the flexibility to balance classes, the district could also reduce staff in some areas and save money while still having appropriate student-to-teacher ratios.
“Center schools solve the imbalance of class sizes that we have between our schools currently, and they bring a host of other benefits to our students,” Crist said. “This plan would only reduce staff through attrition. I do not foresee any layoffs.”
Other benefits the district could realize include:
- better collaboration among teachers;
- an expansion and improvement of the Gifted and Talented and other enrichment/extra-curricular programs;
- having more options to match students with the grade-level teacher best suited to meet their needs;
- having students stay with their teacher and classmates even if they change addresses within the district;
- and many others. (see attachment)
Additionally, Wileman could house a privately run daycare facility, which would provide all-day care for pre-school students, who attend classes for half-days. That adds convenience for parents of 4-year-olds.
The primary drawbacks with the plan are the logistical and travel concerns for parents, having siblings possibly split between different schools and the number of physical building transitions students may experience in their academic careers.
“This model would be unique in our immediate area, but it is not unheard of,” Crist said. “Other Wisconsin districts have experienced great success with center schools and we feel that we could, too. But we have to do it within the physical buildings that we have, while recognizing our diverse student needs.”
If approved, the structure changes would happen beginning in the upcoming 2016-17 school year.
“Our test scores and our loss of students through open enrollment are evidence that our current model isn’t performing as well as we’d like,” he said. “I feel this bold change will one day allow us to see the educational results we desire and help restore the community’s pride in our school system. It would give Delavan-Darien new opportunities to reinvent itself and be innovative and out-front in the ways we educate our students.”
There will be a chance at the Feb. 29 School Board meeting for public comments as it relates to improving educational outcomes for students and school structures. Anyone with thoughts or concerns about school structures, or how to improve the district’s educational offerings can call or email Superintendent Crist or members of the board in advance of the meeting. Ideas and plans would ideally balance class sizes, provide integration of students, improve educational success and reduce costs.