The two fourth-grade classes at Oak School will not be split into three, District 181 board members decided Monday night, but the two classes will get one additional part-time teacher and a former District 181 teacher “coach” to assist the full-time replacement for the recently resigned Lindsay Wagner.
The District 181 Board of Education voted 6-1 at a special business meeting Monday at Monroe School to approve the administration’s recommended course of action for Oak’s fourth grade, which human resources director Doug Eccarius said will maintain the current master schedule while providing additional support for students following Wagner’s sudden resignation earlier this month.
A board report presented by Eccarius featuring 10 different scenarios of addressing the situation states that the additional part-time teacher will reduce class sizes in reading, writing, and math, and will reduce the amount of support from other, non-fourth-grade Oak resources.
The coach, Eccarius’ report states, would provide “an additional teacher with district experience to support the classroom teachers in meeting the needs of the students.” At the board's recommendation, the maximum number of days the coach will assist the new teacher was upped from 10 to 30.
Superintendent Renée Schuster said a similar solution was used successfully last year at The Lane School after a mid-year rise in enrollment in one of the school's grades. Of all the scenarios, she said it does the best at addressing class size with the additional half-time teacher while not making kids changes classes.
“So it was a way to find both—small class size and social emotional needs met through continuity,” Schuster said.
Even if Wagner hadn't resigned, district administration had been expecting to place an additional quarter-time teacher at Oak fourth grade because of a likely increase in advanced math students. The district assigns the extra support when a grade has more than 30 advanced math students.
"We have been informed by Oak that they are expecting their fourth grade math class to reach 30 students or more in the near future," Eccarius' report reads.
Before any board discussion or vote, eight parents of Oak fourth-graders took to the microphone during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting in support of a three-teacher solution that would reduce class size in all subject areas for the group of kids affected by the departure of Wagner, who was in her first year as a full-time classroom teacher in District 181.
Speakers repeatedly cited the "extenuating circumstances" of the situation as justification. Carolyn Burger said the district's solution is overly focused on maintaining the school's master schedule and the current class structure.
"This approach is faulty, simple-minded, and centered on minor, short-term transition issues," Burger said.
The three-class solution supported by the speakers, Eccarius’ board report reads, would necessitate a change in the master schedule and additional music, art and physical education staff. The board report also states that some students would have their schedules completely changed and the placement of students into a reorganized three-class system will take time.
Yvonne Mayer was the only board member to vote against the district’s recommendation. She supported the three-class solution, and pointed to a situation from 2009-10 as justification.
That year, an Elm School morning kindergarten class grew during the year and had to be split into two—one morning class and one afternoon class. The split resulted in the class’s teacher being pulled away from an afternoon kindergarten class she taught at Prospect School, meaning those students had to adjust to a new teacher in the middle of the year.
“It may be challenging, but I think they’re up to the challenge,” Mayer said of the administration taking on a class split at Oak.
Schuster said in an email Wednesday that classes have indeed been split in recent years, but only because of enrollment needs, not because of resignations.
District 181 has posted the half-time position opening. The full-time position has been posted since Wagner’s departure, and the district has received approximately 700 applicants as of Monday.
Wagner’s class is currently being taught by a long-term substitute. Oak’s fourth grade also has an instructional assistant.
The approved plan will cost the district $30,400 to $37,991 it would not have spent had Wagner remained. Eccarius said it’s possible that the instructional assistant may not be needed long-term with the half-time teacher present, and that staff member's re-assignment would drop the total cost above by approximately $22,034.