Woodstock District 200 holds first community forum on Dean Elementary closure, boundary restructure

Parents concerned about diversity, loss of neighborhood schools

By BRITTANY KEEPERMAN - bkeeperman@shawmedia.com Published: Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 12:06 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 9:17 a.m. CDT
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com People check out the proposed new boundaries maps at Monday's public hearing about the closure of Dean Elementary in Woodstock Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. — Sarah Nader

WOODSTOCK – Demographic changes, busing costs and the loss of neighborhood schools were key concerns District 200 parents had at the first public forum on the potential closure of Dean Elementary School.

The Woodstock School District 200 Board is in the process of discussing changes that would affect its elementary school families. Some of these changes include closing Dean Elementary, restructuring district boundaries and creating dual language and monolingual schools.

Residents and parents will have several more chances to hear the proposed plan and discuss their worries with school officials before the board decides to move forward.

Woodstock District 200 last year created a facilities review committee to determine the best way to cut costs while maintaining quality education for students and increasing the chances for teachers to collaborate. Some of the key recommendations including closing the school and making changes to the district’s administrative buildings.

There is a possibility to use Dean Elementary down the road, if the board opts to move Clay Academy’s program – which assists special needs students with vocational training and life skills – to the Dean Elementary building. This would allow for the facility to also be used administratively, an option that isn’t available at Clay because of its small size, Superintendent Mike Moan said.

Another option the district is considering includes the creation of schools that offer strictly either monolingual or dual language education. Many schools in the district currently offer the dual language program – where students are instructed for half of the day in English and the other half in Spanish.

Residents expressed concern about demographic changes if the plan came to fruition, and others were concerned about the lack of options the change could leave them.

“I have a preschooler entering kindergarten, and I feel I have to pick mono[lingual] right now,” parent Emily Gay said. “I’d have three kids at three different schools, and I don’t want to do that for five years.”

Gay said the demographic changes and loss of the neighborhood school worried her as well.

“We moved here from Chicago and part of what I liked about Woodstock was the diversity in its schools,” she said. “Right now, we are at Olson and its walkable. … It’s what made us choose our house. And now?”

The changes to school demographics would be affected most at Mary Endres Elementary, where the percentage of free and reduced lunch students would increase by about 10 percent. The nonwhite student population also would increase by about 20 percent at Mary Endres and Olson elementary schools, which would be the two schools offering the dual language program under current plans.

“That is something to look at for sure,” Moan said. “We aren’t telling you this is the perfect idea. … There are benefits educationally. But it does change the diversity in our buildings for grades one through five. Then it is incumbent upon us to continue to educate our students on different, diverse cultures and how we work with different people.”

The district will host seven more meetings on the matter:

* 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30, Dean Elementary School, 600 Dean St.

* 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6, Greenwood Elementary School, 4618 Greenwood Road

* 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7, Mary Endres Elementary School, 2181 N. Seminary Ave.

* 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11, Olson Elementary School, 720 W. Judd St.

* 6:30 p.m. Sept. 13, Prairiewood Elementary School, 3215 Hercules Road

* 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18, Westwood Elementary School, 14124 W. South Street Road

* 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20, Woodstock High School, 501 W. South St.