Residents worry about proposal to close school, change elementary structure

A proposal to close a school and change elementary programs would save money and help teachers, Woodstock School District 200 officials said, but concerns about social drawbacks for students, lower property values and claims of segregation were predominant at a public meeting to discuss those plans.

About 45 people attended a presentation Aug. 30 at Dean Street Elementary School, where Superintendent Mike Moan and other district administrators laid out a proposal that would close Dean and create separate mono- and dual-language elementary schools.

The plans are still in their infancy and could change before being voted on, Moan said.

“[This proposal] has gone to the Board of Education, but no action has been taken,” Moan said. “The board wants community feedback.”

A key part of the proposal under consideration by the school board would end the use of Dean as an elementary school, although there is a chance the building could be repurposed into a new location for the specialty programs currently housed at Clay Academy, Moan said. The district’s remaining elementary schools would be separated by language program. Certain schools would be designated for dual-language students, who are taught in both English and Spanish, while other schools would be for mono-language students who learn only in English.

Many of the people who attended the meeting are parents of District 200 students.

“I’m in support of closing or consolidating a building. If they have to, that’s fine,” said Aaron Gay, whose children attend Olson Elementary School. “I’m not in support of closing down Dean or the dual/mono-language [proposal]. I don’t see the benefit. I think it just frustrates and angers parents.”

Separating elementary schools by language program would allow teachers more opportunities to collaborate and give them the option to mix classes from year to year, Assistant Superintendent Keeley Krueger said. Currently, some elementary schools have only one section each of mono- or dual-language classes, meaning children have the same classmates from first through fifth grades.

About half of the students in the dual-language program are native English speakers and half are native Spanish speakers, Krueger said.

Woodstock’s Cheri Moehling said she supports closing a school, but she opposes putting dual- and mono-language classes in separate buildings because of the impact it would have on the demographics of schools. Many students in the dual-language program are Hispanic.

“That is a divide, and a divide means segregation, and we’re trying to get these kids all together,” Moehling said.

Closing Dean as an elementary school would save about $600,000 a year in staffing and related costs,  according to Moan. He said the district does not plan to cut any teachers. More savings could come from reductions to capital improvement expenses.

“We utilize about 70 percent of our space at the elementary level,” Moan said. Sending Dean’s 350 students to other schools would increase that number to over 83 percent. “I think many of [the school board members] think, to be good stewards, we have to move that number up.”

Some who attended the meeting live near Dean. Many of them said they were worried about the impact of losing an elementary school in their neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of people who like having neighborhood schools that you can walk to. … This is a place that sustains its property values by struggling people who want to send their kids here,” a man who did not identify himself told administrators.

Megan Scaman is president of Dean’s PTO. She has two children enrolled at the school and attended Dean herself as a child.

“I am all for keeping this school open, but my heart is kind of torn,” Scaman said after the meeting. “I do understand the struggles the teachers are having right now.”

The plan presented Aug. 30 is slightly different than the one created by the district’s Facilities Review Committee, which over the past year considered more than a dozen different options for restructuring District 200’s schools to save money and use up extra classroom space. The committee’s suggestion did not include relocating Clay Academy’s students to Dean — a majority of the committee endorsed it, but it did not meet the 75 percent approval threshold — but Moan said the board wants to consider that option. If that plan were to be approved, the Clay Academy building would close, but its programs would continue.

Administrative offices could possibly move into Dean as well, Moan said. Another part of the proposal calls for selling the district’s administrative building.

District 200’s facilities meetings began Aug. 28 and continue through Wednesday, Sept. 20.

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