Are Grade Centers the Answer for Norridge SD 80 ?

Current discussion to create grade centers in Norridge School District 80 raises a specter that has been debated numerous times throughout our country.   

The relative benefit of one particular grade configuration over another has been the subject of this debate for years. 

Which configuration for a school district is most cost effective? 

Which yields higher student achievement? 

How does grade configuration affect the community?

These discussions and their ultimate outcomes are not without controversy. This can have far-reaching effects on not only the staff and students but on the community itself.

In 1997, of approximately 82,000 public schools in the United States, only about 1,100 were K-12 schools, and for the most part, those schools served rural areas. Today, the most common grade-span configurations are K-5, K-6, 6-8 or 7-9 and 9-12,  with the popularity of each configuration varying according to locale.

The literature reveals that virtually every imaginable combination of grade configuration is found throughout the country. There are neighborhood schools, K-12 schools, K-8 schools, and multiple variations of grade level centers

The reasons for the many different configurations are as varied as the configurations themselves. Typically, eleven factors, alone or in various combinations, drive the decision: cost, equity, socio-economic balance, demographics, curriculum/instruction, space, geography, size, district philosophy, transportation, and facilities. Districts usually make their decisions after public discourse on the weight of the factors pushing the decision. It is noted that every district weighted the factors differently based on conditions within their communities.

Districts usually like their existing structures and prefer not to change unless there is a substantial intervening necessity (cost savings, demographics, space issues, as examples)

Advantages of Grade Level Attendance Centers

  • Each school more clearly focuses on educational/social needs of children.
  • Curriculum/instruction focuses specifically on the grade level age group.
  • Building facility design/usage accommodates a specific age group.
  • Class size is better balanced.
  • Demographics are better balanced.
  • Curriculum, instruction and program are more consistent.
  • May have fewer class sections within a grade, thus operational economies.
  • Or, may have more class sections within a grade.
  • Better mainstreaming of special education/ESL children
  • Reorganization cost savings allow real savings
  • Articulation across grade levels improves.
  • Articulation across attendance centers may or may not improve.
  • Eliminates competition and comparison between schools.

  • Disadvantages of Grade Level Attendance Centers 
  • Children no longer attend their “neighborhood” schools.
  • Parents/children don’t have as much time to build loyalty for a school.
  • May require busing
  • Brothers and sisters may be in different schools.
  • Parents may experience child-care difficulties with children arriving and
    departing at different times.
  • Young children lose older role models.
  • Primary and intermediate grade teachers’ articulation may or may not be more
  • Parents may have to choose between PTA/PTO meetings and participation at
    other events.
  • Changing centers may be disruptive to children and parents.
  •  Communities like to identify with their elementary school. 

Grade configurations may be forced by finances rather than by a choice of philosophy or belief in the superiority of one model over another for Norridge SD 80.

Any transition or change from the current system in SD 80 should be completed with as much community involvement as possible. This should  include parents, teachers, and community members.

Research is inconclusive on whether the grade center model is good or bad for student achievement — but it’s obvious the change will save money.

It’s also obvious that grade centers have become more popular through the years as school districts throughout the U.S. balance their finances.

 Research  always has shown what teachers do in the classroom is the most significant factor, not the classroom itself.

Nearly all educational research points to good teachers being at the core of student achievement. 

In the ongoing discussions  at SD80 you can make a case either way, but it really depends on what is going on inside the classrooms — the curriculum, a teacher’s effectiveness and what student supports are in place.   A lot of it has to do with the community itself. The community has to buy into what is happening.

Grade centers are going to be more common because of Illinois’ financial situation.  They are a lot more cost-effective.

In the late 1980’s, when I was President of Schiller Park SD81, we adopted grade centers with our 3 school buildings and the District has never looked back.   This ultimately enabled District 81 to implement full day kindergarten, a premier pre-k program and withdraw from Leyden Area Special Education Co-Op (LASEC);  bringing their special education program in-house at the District classrooms.   

The current Illinois and District 80 financial distress as well as the success of neighboring multi building school districts’ success with grade centers illuminates the need for Norridge SD 80 to adopt a grade center strategy.    

The adoption of grade centers by the SD80 Board of Education will save $300,000 and preserve the extracurricular programs such as music and art.   

It is imperative that the District 80 Board of Education recognize their limited options, and make a clear and timely decision to adopt the grade center strategy.   

About royfmc

BS in Environmental Engineering from Northwestern University's McCormick College of Engineering MBA from DePaul University's Kellstadt's College of Business JD from DePaul University's College of Law Website:
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