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D181 Board OKs Elementary ACE Transition Plan

The program will only be for next year's fourth- and fifth-graders and it will take place in students' home schools; there will be no busing to Monroe School.

By the narrowest of margins, the District 181 Board of Education favored a transition plan for the elementary ACE program that was labeled a compromise by one administrator Monday night at . 

Board members voted 4-3 to approve an elementary ACE program for the 2012-13 school year that will keep the program’s students in their home schools five days a week and halve the amount of time they spend outside their home classroom.

“It’s not a final plan for ACE,” Superintendent Dr. Renée Schuster said. “It’s a plan for next year.”

Under the approved transition, only fourth- and fifth-grade students next year who have been previously identified for ACE will be in the half-day-per-week program. Like kindergarten, first- and second-grade students, next year’s third-graders will be served entirely in their home classroom unless they are exceptionally gifted.

The transition plan can be found here on the District 181 website. 

During recent school years, ACE students in third through fifth grade have been bused to from their home school for a full day per week of pullout instruction.

With the support of new differentiation specialists (formerly gifted specialists), elementary classroom teachers will increase differentiation in the homeroom so that a pullout program is less or not necessary.

principal Kevin Russell, , told board members the committee that developed the plan presented Monday—which he served on—decided that abandoning the pullout program across all grades would be too large a change from one year to the next.

“I think a lot of the differentiation specialists and a lot of the intermediate teachers are still not quite ready to make that giant of a leap yet,” Russell said.

He called the transition plan a “compromise” and said he hopes the district in 2013-14 will be closer to serving all students entirely in a differentiated homeroom setting.

“I think everyone can get there, it’s just a matter of how quick do we want to get there,” Russell said.

Next year’s elementary ACE program will be held on Tuesdays under the direction of the differentiation specialists. At , Elm, and Monroe schools, the multi-age program will take place in the morning. It will be in the afternoon at Walker, and .

Schuster said reducing the amount of time differentiated specialists devote to the pullout program will allow them to work with classroom teachers to make homeroom settings more differentiated. 

The program will use the former fifth-grade ACE curriculum, which includes robotics and Norse mythology. Video conferencing, field trips and other events will allow ACE students from different schools to be in touch. 

District 181 Board President Michael Nelson voted in favor of the transition plan, as did board members Brendan Heneghan, Sarah Lewensohn and Glenn Yaeger. Yvonne Mayer, Russell Rhoads and Marty Turek voted against the plan.

Turek said he didn’t think the plan reflected the recommendation of gifted consultant Dr. Tonya Moon, Using Moon’s language, he said he thought the transition plan continues to address a full-time problem with a part-time solution.

“I can’t get myself to say we’ve moved forward on this,” Turek said. “I’m having a real tough time feeling like this is going forward in the right direction.”

Mayer said she thinks current ACE students would get by if, during next year’s transition, the current program was suspended and a new one was developed for 2013-14. She said the board agreed to accept and implement the recommendation of the gifted consultant last year.

“We are not doing that with this transition plan and I cannot support it,” Mayer said.

Nelson said he thought board members were taking “potshots” at a plan developed by the people who are at school with the district’s kids every day. The board president supported the 2012-13 plan as a transition.

“Certainly if this transition plan were the end state, I think everybody would be saying, ‘No way in the world,’” Nelson said. “To me I’m not looking at the end state. I’m just trying to buy them some time to get to it.”

Lewensohn said the education community is one that demands compromise and collaboration, and the transition plan is an example of that.

“I just have to recognize that that’s the way it is,” she said. “So it’s one more year.”

When Heneghan asked what qualifications the gifted specialists have to become differentiation specialists, Schuster said they have had differentiation training in the past and there is additional training planned in the future for both them and classroom teachers in the form of conferences and insitute days.

District administration plans to spend $26,360 less in 2012-13 with the transition plan in place than it did in 2011-12. The discontinuation of busing students to Monroe from the other schools one day a week will save the district $29,000. Additional robotic site licenses and occasional transportation between schools, though, will cost the district approximately $2,600.

Students in fourth or fifth grade who are new to the district next year will be assessed for advanced learning via an RtI process, not a test. The district plans to have a 2013-14 advanced learning plan ready for board action by December.

The district also approved Monday a transition plan for the district-wide language arts program.

Monday's vote comes weeks after .

Steve Woodward July 03, 2012 at 06:51 PM
The four board members who voted for this smoke-and-mirrors "transition plan" are demonstrating a lack of backbone and an embrace of the status quo that should concern every district taxpayer.

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