The District 41 Think Tank started in 2011 with a group of teachers and administrators. The group spent about 18 months taking a systemic and long-term look at how District 41 can help students be more successful given the world they will be experiencing. The group brought its findings to the Board of Education on Nov. 26, 2012. In the following months, it shared information and sought feedback at parent and staff meetings to help it refine its concepts preparatory to a final BOE presentation on Feb. 25, 2013. In those months between its first public presentation and final presentation, we discussed the points outlined below as to how we thought the district should proceed. The BOE took action on the Think Tank recommendation March 11, 2013.
We asked many questions (some shown here) about why the district wanted to go through this:
Why… is the Think Tank in Glen Ellyn District 41 recommending a High School model of instructional delivery to elementary students?
Why… if the model is “flexible and fluid” and constantly changing is it being pushed to implement FY 2013-14?
Why… are the PTA boards being asked to sell this initiative?
Why… was K/1 dropped from the model for the 2014-15 school year?
Why… do we not have data to show TLT is successful?
Why… is TLT handled differently in every school and at every grade level? Some don’t do it at all?
Why… has the district still not answered the question of why they thought such a radical change was needed? “21st century learning” is a marketing slogan – not an adequate answer.
Why… hasn’t there been any VERTICAL ARTICULATION about this plan with Hadley and Glenbard West?
Why… haven’t the teachers been asked about this? Yes most of them ARE the best and the brightest. But they are the professionals. It is not educationally sound practice.
Why… just group them 2/3 and 4/5? Certainly some third graders are reading at the fifth grade level and vice versa. Let’s see the RIT scores span on the MAP for all grade levels.
Why… did the group say math groups for 2/3 will be 85% second graders and 15% third graders? We thought no one would be receiving instruction below their grade level? This does not add up.
Why… change? We have excellent test scores. 91.6% of our students meet or exceed standards vs. State average of 82.1% (prior to conversion from ISAT to PARCC).
Why… now? Is it responsible to change when the superintendent is retiring in June and four (of seven) board positions may change in April?
Why… change when the teachers STILL have an open contract? The current contract expired in June 2012.
Why… is this administration rushing this plan?
Why… multi-age classrooms?
Why… aren’t we looking at the socio-emotional development of our children?
Why… are we losing valuable instructional time through more transitions?
Why… tracking? Current research confirms homogeneous grouping (otherwise known as tracking) is detrimental to students.
Why… is the Think Tank disregarding Hattie, Van de Welle, Renzulli, and other educational experts who support diverse, heterogenous classrooms?
Why… does the district want to implement a system that is not researched based?
Why… not focus on improving or refining instruction and materials?
Why… no pilot?
Why… are we reinventing the wheel? Multi-age tracking was tried in the 1970’s. It failed.
Why… is D41 telling us that learning to read is not a sequential process?
Why… hasn’t the scope and sequence for science and social studies units been thought out yet for the new model?
Why… have the taxpayers funded teacher SIOP training when the SIOP model contradicts Think Tank’s philosophy?
Why… do teachers have to specialize when they have all been trained in all subjects? (Including differentiation, integration, PBL, and child development).
We had our own ideas about how to improve our kids’ experience. We want the school day and the classroom structure to remain as-is, with these suggestions for improvement:
- Hire more specialists to work with kids (reading, math, gifted) in one grade level.
- Science lab or real-time science materials for classroom teachers.
- More teacher training and mentoring for differentiation for 21st century learning.
- Open the accelerated math program to more kids or change the gifted model.
- Get rid of Everyday Math and adopt a program that lends itself better to differentiation.
- Set the bar high for all kids, and they will all rise to the top.
- Implement STEM/STEAM to meet new national standards.
- New technology such as more laptops and iPads for every student.
- We want to see sound educational research that supports ALL parts of the Think Tank’s model.
- Proper planning time for teachers to plan to create, differentiate and integrate, not just to spend in meetings.
This can all still be done with one teacher classrooms!
What The District Proposed
Since its original presentation to the public in November 2012 this model continued to evolve.
The community had asked the District 41 administration to release the results of the survey given to the teachers in January 2013 to gauge their support of the Think Tank design. Those results were released from individual schools from each grade level except for the results of question 34 of the survey which asked for comments.
A copy of the comments was obtained by accessing the district’s own web site even though the comments are not listed on the Think Tank page. (Note: the link that’s indicated below to the comments has since been disabled.)
The teacher comments below raised many of the same issues that the public brought up and have largely been overlooked since being approved in March 2013. A majority of the comments expressed concern with speed and implementation. Less than 15% of the respondents fully supported the Think Thank initiative. Even some of those teachers that spoke favorably about Think Tank were concerned with the scope of our launch. Other teachers had concerns about social/emotional impact, multi-age, PLC, and students with special needs.
If you have trouble viewing the comments, you may download a copy of it or view it in full-screen mode on Scribd.com.
District 41 Board of Education Should Consider Alternatives to The Administration’s Proposal
We also thought “outside the box” in order to find avenues of compromise. The changes to all elementary schools proposed and presented by Assistant Superintendent Karen Carlson and outgoing superintendent Dr. Ann Riebock at the February 25, 2013 Board of Education meeting include substantial changes to district facilities, grade level structure, and curriculum delivery throughout the district.
While the vision and goals developed by the Administration and Think Tank are laudable, they presented the Board with a singular option/timeline for introducing the concepts of multi-age classrooms, teacher specialization, and STEAM curriculum into elementary classrooms in our neighborhood schools. As such, the Board voted unanimously in favor of the proposal at their March 11th meeting. We felt it was incumbent on the Board of Education members to consider whether other alternatives exist to the current Think Tank proposal that will better meet the needs of District 41 elementary students and the community.
4th-5th Grade Teacher Specialization District-Wide in 2013/2014 (without Multi-age)
Survey results and building presentations indicate that the teachers and schools were all interested in and ready to move forward with teacher specialization in 4th and 5th grade. Coupled with increasing the rigor of the math curriculum (through acceleration) and the introduction of the new science curriculum in 2014/2015 (in response to the new Common Core Standards), this would allow teachers to “go deeper” into their subjects and integrate subjects without the challenges and risks of multi-age classrooms.
After one or two years of 4th and 5th grade teacher specialization, teachers, students and parents could be surveyed to assess satisfaction and success of the change. Test scores could also be examined to see if teacher specialization improved student performance in elementary school and better prepared them for the rigors of Hadley. If results are favorable, the District could consider adding teacher specialization in the lower grades.
Advantages to this approach include:
- This is one aspect of the current model that could be rolled out district-wide with teacher and community support this Fall.
- Students would remain with the same class for the entire day, just switch teachers for Literacy/SS and science/math (STEAM) blocks.
- Curriculum could more easily be aligned with Common Core Standards, which set distinct goals for each grade level, as opposed to multi-age levels.
- The District could re-hire the math specialists we used to have in the elementary schools and a mentor-teacher program could be established to work with kids at one grade level to address the different levels of learners in one classroom and the particular goals of the Common Core for that grade level.
- This model allows for easy assessment of the success of program/student performance improvement district-wide.
- Serves as a pilot before considering teacher specialization in lower grades.
As many community members have pointed out at Board meetings over the last several months, there is value to taking a slower, more reasoned approach to change in our elementary schools. The wisdom and viability of these other options is yet another reason that the Board should not approve the Administration’s current proposal. At the very least, it is incumbent on Board Members to consider several options before moving forward, instead of just approving the singular model the Administration has placed before it.
STEAM Magnet Academy
Think Tank studied several districts, including Waukesha, WI which established STEAM charter or magnet schools. Because this concept has been tested and successfully implemented in other districts, the Board should consider a similar approach to introducing STEAM concepts into our District.
A STEAM magnet school in Glen Ellyn could be achieved by purchasing an existing property such as Spring Avenue or Main Street Recreation Center from the Park District (which has excess facilities issues since Ackerman Sports and Fitness Center was built) and converting it into a STEAM school. Interested families could apply to the STEAM Magnet Academy and a lottery system would be used for admission.
Notably, District 41 already has established the long-range goal of building a new school in Glen Ellyn since the development of the 2009 Master Facility Plan (currently under a renewal process and is expected to be reported to the board in April). Latest District financial information shows a fund balance of $15-16 million, and the District has been setting aside surplus funds for this endeavor, including $3 million at the February 25th meeting.
Building a STEAM Magnet Academy in an existing facility is a more economical option than a brand new school, which would require a large amount of capital (through referendum/tax increase) and redistricting.
The advantages to a STEAM Magnet Academy include:
- A STEAM Magnet Academy could solve many of the District’s existing problems, such as land/space/capacity issues, by lowering the number of students in existing schools, thus allowing for:
- Removal of portable classrooms
- Addition of all-day kindergarten
- Smaller class sizes/better TLT/WIN time opportunities
- Adding a STEAM Magnet Academy would streamline the Administration’s curriculum goals with the District’s long-range goal of acquiring new space/school to alleviate overcrowding issues.
- No redistricting would be required.
- The STEAM Magnet Academy would serve as a pilot. If it is successful, the District could then also incorporate the curriculum into existing schools. Because current space constraints would not be an issue, the current buildings could more easily be reconfigured or further developed to add STEAM and Literacy Labs. Additionally, experienced Academy teachers could then lead the training of other teachers in the District, which would be cheaper than sending all district teachers for outside STEAM training from qualified organizations (such as U of I/Champaign school studied by Think Tank).
- A STEAM Magnet Academy follows the Waukesha model, which is a model the Administration is trying to incorporate into our existing schools. Indeed, Waukesha created a STEAM Magnet school by rehabbing an existing facility rather than building a new building. Many other districts also have added STEAM Magnet schools, thus the District could emulate Waukesha and those schools rather than trying to retrofit existing schools. Notably, incoming superintendent Dr. Gordon will join us from a district that has two STEAM magnet academies and is thus well-positioned to lead the district in such an endeavor.
- Creating a STEAM Magnet Academy in an existing facility benefits the entire community financially by helping the Park District unload property they no longer need and by expanding D41 facilities without constructing a brand new school, which would require a referendum/tax increase.
- Adding a STEAM Magnet Academy would garner more community support than the current plan. Families who want to send their children to the new school could apply. Families who prefer a neighborhood school can stay at their present school.
- The option of a STEAM Magnet Academy would appeal to families with young children considering a move to Glen Ellyn from Chicago or other cities and possibly improve property values.