Elementary school grade structures will change in 2016-17

DELAVAN — The Delavan-Darien School District’s Board of Education voted 4-3 at a special meeting Monday night (Feb. 29, 2016) to change the elementary school grade configurations within the district.

Starting in September, the three elementary schools will house the following grades:

  • Wileman Elementary: Early Childhood, 4-year-old Kindergarten, 5-year-old Kindergarten and possibly a privately-run day-care facility;
  • Turtle Creek Elementary: Grades 1-3;
  • Darien Elementary: Grades 4-5.

The current structure has all elementary schools with preschool through grade 5, and Darien also housing the Early Childhood program.

Voting for the proposal were Board President Dr. Jeff Scherer, Vice President Steve Logterman, Dr. Chad Kort and Roxann Kelton. Board members Jim Hansen (secretary), Sharon Gonzalez (Treasurer) and John Andreoni voted against, however Hansen and Gonzalez favored the idea but wanted to institute the change in 2017-18.

Robert Crist, Ed.D.

Superintendent Robert Crist, Ed.D.

“The wide-ranging educational needs of our students are best served by this new model,” said Superintendent Robert Crist, who originally suggested changing the school structures about two years ago. “This will totally integrate our student population and improve the educational situations of all students, regardless of their race, language, educational needs, family income and living arrangements. We will not have population pockets or isolation of any of these groups as all students will be together from their very first day of school through graduation.”

The Wileman students who are not within walking distance will have their own separate bus routes apart from any other students. The students in grades 1-5 will ride together with Turtle Creek being a transfer point for grades 4 and 5 as those students go to or come from Darien Elementary. Students who live within walking distance of their school would not ride the bus.

There are no changes to the bussing or grade configurations at Phoenix Middle School and Delavan-Darien High School.

Crist and the district’s administrative team believe the switch to this “center school model” will allow the district to integrate all students better no matter their background, become more efficient, have better staff collaboration and planning, balance class sizes and save money, which could be used for retaining existing programs and staff.

An estimated $500,000 or more could be reallocated following anticipated staff reductions via attrition. With the ability to balance class sizes in all grades because inter-district boundaries are removed, the district could have fewer teachers while still keeping appropriate class sizes. And, students who move homes within the district, or who are homeless, would not have to switch schools or teachers under the model, something that 60 elementary students have had to experience this year.

Additionally, the model promotes a district-mentality vs. a single-school mentality. Instead of having one school judged as being better or worse than another one, successes and outcomes will be looked at as district-wide accomplishments.

“We are in the business of education, and we have to be responsible to the taxpayers while providing the best educational system to all our students with the resources we have,” Crist said. “This model levels the playing field for our students. It truly is one that promotes fairness for all kids, no matter where they live within our district boundaries.

“I believe this model will also allow for greater student achievement by having teams of teachers together where they can focus on their grade level and the developmental needs of their students. There is a lot of potential for innovation by teachers, too.”

Logterman said the district had to find a way to better integrate the district’s students. The district has nearly 70 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, more than 100 students who have been homeless this school year and approximately 47 percent of the student body is Latino. Turtle Creek currently has higher percentages of all three groups when compared to Darien and Wileman elementary schools.

“I’d like to live in community where we all work together and everyone has a fair chance, so I’m for it,” Logterman said.

Scherer acknowledged that not every parent or family would be in favor of the model, which will make for more school building transitions, logistical changes to families’ routines and potentially splitting up siblings between different buildings.

However, “there are a lot of things in the plan that I like,” Scherer said. “It answers a lot of things we can’t solve now (with the existing building structures). One of the things I’m concerned with is student achievement. This allows us to have better Gifted and Talented programs. Our Special Education needs will be met much better. There won’t be transition issues at Phoenix.

“We have many challenges here, but we have a limited budget,” Scherer added. “We are trying to figure out how to best spend our money and do the best job we can. I agree with the center school concept.”

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