MESSAGE FROM SUPERINTENDENT DR. PAUL GORDON
The school year has started off very well with great energy among our staff and many smiling faces among our students. Every day I meet more members of the District 41 community and find more reasons to feel proud of belonging here. I wanted to tell you a bit about the start of school, particularly our 21st Century Learning Initiatives. I also wanted to bring you an update on discussions around facility plans for the elementary schools.
21st Century Learning Initiatives: As you may know, several new programs and approaches have launched this year in order to bring our students the best possible experience: Spanish has been introduced as a core elementary subject starting in first grade and we now offer an English/Spanish Dual Language kindergarten option-both of these programs will roll up a grade each year. Our elementary teachers in grades 2 and up are specializing in either literacy/social studies or math/STEAM* in order to be able to take their students deeper into the subject matter in line with the expectations of the new Common Core standards. And, students in grades 4 and 5 are in multiage groupings for their literacy/social studies classes, an approach that lets us put the focus on individual learning needs rather than on chronological age. We have a systematic framework in place for monitoring the progress and impact of these programs, and most of our early anecdotal feedback has been positive among staff, parents and students. I hope you'll find time to take a look at our 21st Century Initiatives Web page which was designed to be a simple and straightforward reference for you.
Elementary facilities: I want to bring you up to date on the elementary school facilities concepts the BOE discussed Monday night. As these concepts go through our three-step decision-making process (Finance Committee review, BOE discussion and BOE action) they may evolve further as BOE members and stakeholders put forth their points of view. What follows is a summary of the ideas that are on the table now.
These concepts place the emphasis squarely on getting the greatest number of kids that we can out of portable classrooms by adding flexible classrooms at each elementary. What do I mean by "flexible classrooms"? They'll be regular classrooms that can be configured into larger spaces for presentations or projects (STEAM* or others). *STEAM is an integrated approach to learning Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math.
This approach combines the desire for lab space with the need for more classroom space. This direction addresses our most pressing needs first and is in direct alignment with our long-term goal: bringing all kids under roof in schools that support 21st century learning. The plan doesn't eliminate all portables, but does reduce our reliance on them.
The number of flexible classrooms we could add depends on money. The BOE has said it is open to us using $8 to $10 million of our fund balances (savings) for these projects. In addition, we are looking into alternative funding; specifically a way to borrow a limited amount without a referendum or raising taxes that we'd pay back out of our normal budget. If approved, this work would be phased over the next two or three summers.
This short-term plan would be a good start, but we would still need portables and have many unmet needs: the plan doesn't touch Hadley, and we need more bathrooms, more cafeteria space, more parking, etc. But our day-to-day crowding would be relieved at the elementary schools and we would be making incremental progress against our long-term goals. A new school is still the key to resolving these larger issues, a goal that is in the future and would require a successful referendum.
I will keep you informed on the evolution of this work, and I encourage you to attend the Sept. 23 BOE meeting, at which we will be discussing these plans.
Dr. Paul Gordon
Superintendent of Glen Ellyn School District 41