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D41 board unanimously approves consistent Think Tank plan

GLEN ELLYN — After more than three months of discussion, the Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to approve the recommendation of staff members to implement teacher specialization for second through fifth grades and multi-age classrooms for fourth and fifth grades in fall 2013.

Since a districtwide forum held Saturday, the Think Tank recommendation was modified to include a consistent approach at all four elementary schools. At the board's last regular meeting Feb. 25, each school presented its own plan indicating what it would be able to implement of the Think Tank proposals next fall.

Now, instead of the schools picking what to implement, they will each implement the same changes each year of the three-year plan.

Phase One will include the implementation of teacher specialization for second through fifth grades and multi-age classrooms for fourth and fifth grades next fall. In fall 2014, Phase Two will add multi-age classrooms for literacy for second and third grades across the district. Multi-age classrooms for math will be added for second through fifth grades during Phase Three in fall 2015.

During board discussion, many members said changing the plan to have a consistent approach at each school made them more comfortable with the proposal.

"I realize that that's a change, and I was concerned with the potential disparity in the learning throughout the district," Sam Black said. "And that was a problem for me. This change addresses that concern."

This appreciation for the change to a consistent approach was echoed by Dan Smith, Drew Ellis, John Kenwood and Steve Vondrak.

Prior to the vote, members of the public had the opportunity to address the board during public comment. Two parents spoke against the proposed plan while one parent spoke in favor. Two teachers also spoke in favor of the plan.

Forest Glen and Lincoln parent Stephanie Clark said 577 people had signed an online and paper petition to ask the district to delay implementation and use a true pilot to test changes.

Amy Watroba, who has a son in second grade at Forest Glen, asked the board to consider only approving teacher specialization for fourth and fifth grades at all the schools and using that as a starting point to possibly implement more changes in the future, rather than implementing more than one change at the same time.

"My concerns with this are that if you implement two big changes at the same time, you won't be able to accurately assess which one is working and which isn't," Watroba said.

Watroba also made this recommendation during Saturday's districtwide forum, which gave parents the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the proposed changes with board members and district staff.

Although not all questions were answered during the forum, a handout was available at Monday's board meeting with answers to the remaining questions that had been asked.

Most of the parents who attended the forum were from Lincoln Elementary, which originally proposed to implement all the Think Tank changes — teacher specialization and multi-age classrooms for second through fifth grades — before the proposal was modified in time for the board's vote.

Some of the parents at the forum were in favor of the Think Tank plans, including Megan Lowrie, who has a kindergarten son and second-grade daughter at Lincoln.

"There are parents who are in support of this change," Lowrie said. "Meeting our learners wherever they are is a concern."

Next steps for the Think Tank and its successor, Team 21, include the development of a simulated experience of the approved changes for students this May and modification of the district's Meet and Greet, Curriculum Night, parent/teacher conferences, open house and professional learning community schedule to reflect the changes being implemented at the schools. The Think Tank and Team 21 also will create criteria to evaluate the success of the changes.

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