GEL ELECTION PROFILE: Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board - Questions and Responses 11 - 15

Question 11: What are your thoughts on the number of meetings that teachers attend during the school day that necessitate the employment of substitute staff in the classroom?

Terra Costa Howard: The number of meetings held during the school day need to be limited. A great deal of work is done before and after school as well as during the summer by our staff. This year, our math committee which meets monthly and our building leadership teams that meet quarterly are the only committees that meet during the school day. All other committee work at the elementary level meets before or after school. The Hadley New Horizons committees did meet during the school day but next year will be limited during program implementation.

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Drew Ellis: I believe that, as with most people in our workforce today, there is time required of us as employees which we have to spend in personal and professional development if we are to excel in our professions. Much of that time must be spent outside of regular work hours. The potential disruptions to a course of teaching as well as the financial implications of added substitutes should be carefully reviewed by the Board.

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Jack Kahler: I feel the same way about this as I do about short weeks. Interrupting the classroom schedule diminishes educational quality and continuity. As any kid will tell you, substitutes are not as effective as the full-time teachers.

These are manageable issues. If we are serious about educational excellence, then we should avoid pulling teachers into meetings during class time whenever possible.

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Dan Smith: I do not know the quantities or frequency of this occurring to comment fully. Obviously there are needs of the staff to communicate information in a personal matter to the teachers.

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Question 12: What are your thoughts on implementing late days instead of full snow days?

Terra Costa Howard: In theory late days could be a better way to address emergency days. However, the safety of our students is the greatest priority. If late arrival could be achieved without compromising safety then I could support its implementation.

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Drew Ellis: I support continuity in school days again, as not to disrupt a teaching program, but I would want to see how the community felt about this before I made a decision about it. There are other thoughts to consider in this decision as to how this would affect so many working families and their schedules.

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Jack Kahler: Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about this option offer an informed opinion. It may be a great idea, but I would need to understand (1) whether it’s feasible under the law, (2) does it make educational and financial sense, and (3) does it create an unacceptable burden for families in the community.

I’d look at what the law says about running buses and letting kids walk to and from school in inclement weather conditions. I’d also see how our union contracts address late starts and early closings. We’d need to know what it would cost, since we’d likely be paying a full day’s wages for a shorter school day (and not everyone in the district would agree to that.) If all the answers came back favoring a late start option, then I’d want to draft a plan with some guidelines. Finally, I’d want to take a quick survey to see how our students’ families feel about the plan. Late starts wouldn’t entirely eliminate inconvenience, and it may be that even if the plan made educational sense it would still be too much of a pain for parents.

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Dan Smith: I would like to see this explored as it would minimize the efforts parents would have to do with regards to dependent care planning in the instances where they are still required to go to their place of work.

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Question 13: What are your thoughts on how to revamp the buildings to accommodate so many kids (master facilities planning)?

Terra Costa Howard: I am looking forward to hearing the recommendation by the master facilities committee. The board will base their decision on their report and how to proceed on the issue.

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Drew Ellis: I feel that this district, in the past, may have been short sighted in its approach to facilities. When I grew up in town we had double the grammar schools of today. Understanding that the districts enrollment may have been greater at the time I have to question the logic of selling and or tearing down as many facilities as we have. One good example of this which I have observed is with the Spaulding School which many of my friends went to. I believe that a few years back when a demographic study was done that the neighborhood surrounding Spaulding School was the only area in the district showing projected growth. That school which was not as old as a few of the other schools in the District was in an area which has seen much development over the years and could have been maintained in inventory and leased for alternate uses until the area was developed further and possibly needed again. Most importantly I believe in the work of the Master Facilities Planning Task Force and feel that their options, suggestions and insights should be carefully reviewed in implementing a best solution to the facilities question.

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Jack Kahler: If I took your question at face value, then my answer would be, “we should do nothing, because the buildings already accommodate the kids.” However, I don’t think that’s what you meant to ask.

Since I’m presently on the Master Facilities Planning committee and was also on the Boundaries committee a couple of years ago, I have some strong opinions on this topic. And from what I’ve seen, there are many different opinions about what problem we are trying to solve. My first thought is that unless we start off by defining the problem in a way that makes sense, any answer we come up with may be as popular as the Hadley referendum.

In my opinion, our primary facilities problem is the inappropriate use of portable classrooms. We’ve had about 550 kids being taught in portables for some time now, so it seems we are solving a permanent problem with temporary facilities. Portables are meant to handle temporary overflows, but they raise some quality and safety issues that grow over time. Portables also become more costly than brick and mortar facilities after about 20 years, and my understanding is that we’ve already had some of our portables in place for over a decade. So I would change your question from “accommodate so many kids” to “eliminate the portables.”

So to eliminate the portables, we have to find about 22 classrooms worth of additional space throughout the district. My first suggestion is to regain any unused (or underused) classroom space in our existing brick and mortar facilities. Maybe move faculty and storage rooms out to the portables? That might gain us one or two rooms in each building. More importantly, the community will be a lot more willing to consider capital spending when it sees that the district has “max’ed out” its existing buildings.
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Question 14: What are your thoughts on class size? Are current District 41 guidelines compatible with your expectations? Do you think that current class size targets meet the needs of our students? If not, why not?

Terra Costa Howard: I believe the current class size targets meet the needs of our students. However, class sizes targets may need to be adjusted to meet the needs of different groups of students. Targets are not mandates but guidelines and need to be adjusted if required for kids.

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Drew Ellis: Although studies argue that class sizes do not tremendously affect our students abilities to learn, I feel we should shoot for a number of around 15 to 20 and be prepared to accept a slightly larger number if it can help soften a spike in enrollment.
I understand, from what I have seen and read that the class sizes in the District seem to vary from as few as 10 to over 25 students in classrooms with the average coming in at around 16 students.
Yes as stated above.

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Jack Kahler: In my opinion, our class sizes are fine as they are. To my knowledge, “general” class sizes haven’t changed that much over time. However, there have been a growing number of special programs and pull-outs covering topics like ESL, advanced and remedial studies, which have smaller student-teacher ratios and require additional small group spaces. Many of these programs are mandated so we must accommodate them in our educational model.

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Question 15: Do you think that the District facilities are overcrowded? If not, do you anticipate that the current space will adequately handle enrollment projections for the foreseeable future?

Terra Costa Howard: Absolutely! The portable classrooms are required to meet our classroom space needs. With over 550 students in portable classrooms throughout the district we are maxed out with space. They are not a long term solution to overcrowding.

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Drew Ellis: I believe that during a school board meeting or public forum which I attended a few years back it was stated that none of the buildings which currently house students were overcrowded based on the number of students they were designed to accommodate. It was further stated that it was the programs in the schools that were making them seem overcrowded as in some cases small classes were held in large classrooms and vice versa. Ultimately, I come back to the work of the, community infused, Master Facilities Planning Task Force that under took the study of the facilities question. I feel that their options, suggestions and insights should be carefully reviewed in implementing a best solution to the facilities question. The Districts implementation of a best solution to the facilities question, regardless of reconfigured existing facilities space or additionally constructed facility space should look toward the Master Facilities Planning Task Force’s work. These facilities questions are not new to the District and facility issues date back to the first District schoolhouse constructed at Stacy’s Corner in 1841. I believe the answers to the facilities questions will be solved by balancing the continuity of education with a need for flexibility and the appropriate leveraging of our tax payer resources to implement the best solution.

Based on the most recent Demographic study, that I am aware of, the data shows that we are experiencing and will continue to experience declining enrollment. That being said, as long as we can modify the existing buildings to accommodate the varied class sizes and make the best use of every space in our schools then I feel we may be able to keep the buildings that we have and possibly start to remove the portables. The portables are just that, a temporary solution not a permanent solution. I feel that our goal should be to eliminate as many portable buildings as possible and start bringing the students back under one roof.

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Jack Kahler: Yes, the facilities are crowded. If you don’t believe me you should walk through Lincoln and Forest Glen before having lunch at Franklin. I’m not convinced the classrooms themselves are overly crowded, but the common spaces such as multi-purpose and lunch rooms seem tight as they are presently used.

However, some buildings are more crowded than others, and some of the crowding is due to poor or inappropriate use of the existing space. On my last tour of the elementary buildings, I saw many rooms packed with materials that might be better stored elsewhere. While most of our schools struggle to accommodate small groups, numerous classrooms sit empty at least part of the day except for one teacher who is tethered to a desktop computer. This is crowding by choice, and maybe we can fix some of that by making better decisions about our space usage.

I have no hard data to support this, but my gut tells me enrollment will remain fairly level into the foreseeable future. While I was on the Boundaries Committee, I saw an NIU study that projected significant growth, but their numbers were based on a flawed forecasting methodology.

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