ELMHURST – Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205's middle schools will incorporate four hotly contested recommendations in 2018-19 following the Board of Education's unanimous approval at its Jan. 23 meeting.
The approved recommendations were centered around electives students can take for two 40-minute class periods daily. Elective options include world language, unified arts, Project Lead the Way, and band, orchestra or choir.
Sixth-graders could take a three-year sequence of learning French or Spanish, which would take them through level 1 and level 2, and then they could start level 3 in high school. A second option is to wait until seventh grade to start world language, take level 1 in seventh and eighth grade, and start level 2 in high school. The third option is to forego taking world language in middle school and wait until high school to start learning language.
Sixth- and seventh-graders could take unified arts in a "wheel" that includes family and consumer science, music, art, creative technology and industrial tech. Each of these would last about seven weeks. Eighth-graders could take two semester-long options related to these fields of study.
The district also would launch two semester-long Project Lead the Way modules – Design and Modeling and Computer Science for Innovators and Makers – next year.
The district would roll band, orchestra and choir into the school day over the next two years instead of having it before school. Incoming sixth-graders next year would have band, orchestra and choir during the school day with the exception of one full ensemble rehearsal weekly before school, while seventh- and eighth-graders would continue to meet before school. For the 2019-20 school year, seventh- and eighth-grade band, orchestra and choir students would begin meeting regularly during the day, and all grade levels would rehearse once per week before school as a full ensemble.
District parents have expressed discontent with the changes to the middle-school curriculum. More than 100 people came to a Board of Education meeting Nov. 14, 2017, in response to the proposals, and more than 85 people attended a district PTA-led forum on the changes Jan. 16.
A few district parents spoke before the board Jan. 23 about their opposition to the middle-school recommendations.
"If there's a concern about students coming to band and orchestra sleepy, there's a very simple solution, which is raise awareness with parents so they can make sure their child gets to bed on time," said Deanne Mazzochi, who is the chairwoman of the College of DuPage Board of Trustees and a candidate for 47th Illinois House District representative. "It is not to all of a sudden start redoing the schedule so our students have less time to rehearse."
DuPage County Board member Pete DiCianni, who has a daughter at Bryan Middle School, said without the exposure to unified arts at the middle-school level, students might not choose to explore it further in high school. In light of its budget issues, the district should table the recommendations and invest in current programs, he said.
"We are often a community that says, 'Everybody's going to Harvard. Everybody's going to an Ivy League,'" DiCianni said. "We all know that's not the case. ... We're a middle-class community, and we need to give kids a full, comprehensive education."
Before the vote, each of the school board members made comments or asked questions.
Board member Kara Caforio asked if the district plans to track and assess band, orchestra and choir students for any changes students might go through because of the schedule change.
Mary Henderson, assistant superintendent for learning and leadership development, said the district would have the ability to see students' achievement markers, attendance records and referrals to student support services. About 30 percent of the district's middle-school students participate in band, orchestra and choir, Henderson said.
Board member Jim Collins said the district should embrace change, and change is necessary to improve state rankings.
"Let's try it. We make a mistake, let's be the first to either improve it or abandon it," Collins said.
Middle-school meetings with school administration and guidance counselors about grade-level options and course selections will be Feb. 1. The current sixth- and seventh-grade meetings will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at each middle school, and the incoming sixth-grade meetings will be from 7 to 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at each middle school.
To learn about the middle-school changes, visit shawurl.com/37sz.