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D-41 prepares for changes at elementary schools

Published: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT

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GLEN ELLYN – As summer hits its peak in Glen Ellyn with Fourth of July celebrations, District 41 is busy preparing for fall implementation of Think Tank initiatives that were marked by controversy when approved last March.

The initiatives, which include teacher specialization and multi-age classrooms at D41 elementary schools, inspired a strong response from many parents, who said the district was proposing too much, too fast, without enough data to support the initiatives as steps that would benefit the district.

Although D41 says progress has been made to prepare to carry out the changes this fall, worries from the community remain.

“Parents that I’ve spoken to are concerned about readiness for the fall because very little has been communicated with parents,” said Stephanie Clark, who has three children in the district.

Former Superintendent Ann Riebock gave the D41 Board of Education an overview in June of the progress of various district teams, including the group charged with preparing to implement Think Tank initiatives.

But other than that, parents haven’t heard much about what’s been happening, Clark said.

District preparations have included several meetings each week by Team 21, the group of district and school administrators, teachers, support staff, two parents and a board liaison who are working on Think Tank implementation preparedness, said Julie Worthen, district director of communications and grants.

The focus of Team 21 with regard to Think Tank is not only implementing the changes but also monitoring and evaluating them, Worthen said. The team is about halfway through its work.

Some of the specific charges of Team 21 include modifying D41’s Meet and Greet, Curriculum Night, Parent/Teacher Conferences, Open House and Professional Learning Community schedule, developing a simulated experience of approved changes for students and creating criteria to evaluate the success of the Think Tank initiatives.

The initiatives include dividing the school day into two main blocks for second through fifth grades — one for literacy and social studies and the other for science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). Teachers will specialize in content instruction for one of those blocks and each student will have two core teachers instead of one.

Other changes include educating students in fourth and fifth grades in multi-age classrooms for literacy and social studies.

A simulated experience was held at each of the elementary schools in the spring to give students a sense of the changes that would begin in the fall.

In addition to the work being done by Team 21, teachers also are using the summer to prepare for the upcoming school year. This prep work may include planning specifically for the Think Tank initiatives, Worthen said.

There will be four Institute Days right before school starts Aug. 26 as well, from Aug. 19 through 22. These always focus on teachers’ professional development needs, but Worthen was unsure of whether they will center around the changes this school year.

Overall, Worthen says the district will be ready for implementation in the fall. Parents hope that’s the case, too, as there isn’t much for them to do besides wait, said Clark, who – like most parents – ultimately wants kids to do well with the changes despite her own feelings toward the initiatives in the past.

“The parents and community members share the same goal that we want any changes to be successful,” Clark said.

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