BERWYN – Berwyn Elementary School District 100 has a problem with overcrowding at Hiawatha School and low reading scores at Komensky School. Officials say by turning both schools into grade level centers, the district may be able to solve both problems.
Some parents, however, see the proposal for grade level centers as nothing but a logistical headache that raises concerns for the safety of those children who walk to school.
Superintendent Stan Fields touched briefly on the issue, which has been tabled pending the outcome of a referendum scheduled in March 2014 at the April 23 Board of Education Meeting. The referendum would address the need to increase space in the district’s schools, among them, Hiawatha School.
Parent and opponent of the plan, Ruth Oviedo, has a first-grader at Komensky School and a one-year-old at home.
“I am in disagreement. It’s been shown it might not work,” Oviedo said, but didn’t offer the source of that assessment. The other problem, she added is the logistics involved in getting her student and child to a different school.
“I literally live next door to school,” she said. “Now I’ll have to use my vehicle and pay for gas. I’m going to have to take my one-year-old with in the freezing cold and the heat.”
The proposed plan for grade level centers was developed by Hiawatha School Principal Marylin McManus, Assistant Principal Karen Marino and Komensky School Principal Jeremy Majeski. It was first presented to the board in March. Marino said there were 105 new students attending the school, which is 100-years old this year.
“We definitely don’t have the classroom space to accommodate,” she said of overcrowding at Hiawatha School.
At Komensky School, flat reading scores on the Illinois State Achievement Test point to another problem. In the first four of the last six years, scores were at only 78 percent of students meeting or exceeding the standards set by the state, she said. The last two years showed an increase to 81 percent, but not a lot of growth, she said.
Part of the reading issue stems from the fact that many incoming students have no pre-school skills.
“We don’t have enough resources to get kids reading at the third grade level by third grade,” Marino said.
Under the grade level centers plan, the schools will be divided into a pre-K to third -grade, and fourth to fifth grade centers, making it easier to reallocate resources, and most importantly, Marino said, give students what they need to succeed.
“[Students] would go to a specialist, experts in those grade levels,” she said.
The new Common Core National Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics are much more complex than those of the past, Marino said.
“The research states the way to get these students moving along is teacher collaboration,” Marino said. “We definitely do have teacher collaboration. However, with grade level centers, we would have at least eight teachers at a grade level collaborating, where as now you would have three or four teachers collaborating at a grade level.”
Parent Mary Lyshik has three children in school, a pre-K, fourth and sixth grader. Two go to Komensky and the other goes to Freedom Middle School. The grade level center will have all three of her children attending three different schools, she said. She added that many parents have been reading up about grade level centers and have come away with the opinion that they tend to fail.
“A lot of us parents stressed to the board we don’t like this change. I personally asked the board that they do this gradually, or do a summer program to convince us parents it’s going to work,” Lyshik said.
Parents said they were also concerned about the safety of children walking to another school far from home, she said.
“I would never let my... daughter walk the streets by herself,” Lyshik said. “It’s just not safe.”
To that end, Marino said there have been discussions about staggering starting times for the school day and providing more crossing guards to address the logistics and safety issues.