The good, the bad and the ugly: District 61 holds a second public meeting to discuss how to best utilize school buildings


Some Decatur school buildings are over-crowded and falling apart. Others are in good condition with plenty of room. So what is the best way to solve the problems for district 61?
    That was the purpose of the second open school board meeting Thursday, held in the cafeteria at Eisenhower High School. The district put together a team of district administrators, parents, school faculty members and community leaders called "FACES" - or the "Facilities Advisory Committee for Exceptional Schools". The team was formed toward the end of summer and meets at least once a month with the goal of getting community input on the best ways for District 61 to utilize school buildings.
    One of the biggest problems being discussed recently is the K-8 students. Stephen Decatur Middle School is in pretty good shape without a lot of maintenance troubles. The school building is large enough to accommodate about 1,100 students, but presently only serves around 350. Meanwhile two other Decatur schools, Johns Hill Magnet School and Garfield Montessori, are in desperate need of more classroom space. The Johns Hill building is over a century old and, as proven during an investigative report by WAND I-Team reporter Doug Wolfe, is literally crumbling apart. During Wolfe's report he put his hand on the wall in one of the school's hallways and effortlessly pulled off a chunk of the wall. And the building housing Garfield students is nearly as bad. Yet both these schools offer unique educational programs that are so popular, Decatur parents must put their children on waiting lists. 
    There are other building issues within the district that need to be addressed, but Thursday night's public meeting focused on K-8 students. The principals from each D-61 school asked at least 10 people from a cross section of the community to become engaged in Thursday meeting, as the FACES committee offered productive break-out sessions to spur conversation and creative ideas. And since, during the first public meeting, parents asked "what does the research show?", the D-61 Chief Instructional Officer, Ed Moyer, started Thursday's second meeting providing research from other school districts across the nation that have faced similar situations - combining k-8 students into one building where they might remain for all of their pre-high school years. "Well the research is kind of sketchy about this. But what it does show is that kids who are in the buildings for a long period of time, providing stability, have a greater identification with the teachers" Moyer said Thursday. "They also have a greater identification with each other. And so the notion of K-8 buildings is one that we're going to put forward tonight".
    Maria Ford is D-61's Director of Community Engagement, as is one of a few dozen people who also sits on the "FACES" committee. She says "no decisions have been made. We're just strictly getting some input from the community to have that chance for those voices to be heard". But all and all, Ford says, the brainstorming sessions have been positive. "I think people are really willing to work together. It's not just 'my school' or 'my personal agenda' that we are seeing" Ford added. "The community wants the community to thrive. And we know that the public school system is a big part of that. So what ever success the school district has, the community knows that is going to be reflected on Decatur as a whole."
    The FACES committee hopes to hold at least two more public sessions for the year. Stay with WAND News for more details.

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