As residents of Savanna and constituents of West Carroll Unit District 314, my wife Kay and I are very concerned about recent discussions regarding the potential closure of the West Carroll High School. The District 314 Board of Education has the unenviable but critical task of ensuring that our children receive a quality education, which involves a complicated balance between fiscal responsibility and the achievement of a host of educational program objectives.
There are two very important components of this "quality education" equation. One is economic — being good stewards of the District's assets. The second component is about the quality of the District's educational program. Most of the public discourse to date has focused on the fiscal responsibility side of the equation. However, we believe that an equal amount of attention needs to be paid to "quality of education" issues.
This begs the question, "What do we really mean when we say our children deserve a quality education?” In other words, what do we want our schools to achieve for our kids? What should be the end result of their 13 years in our school system?
In the WC Handbook, Section 6:10 entitled "Educational Philosophy and Objectives," it states that "The District's educational program will seek to provide an opportunity for each student to develop to his or her maximum potential." It goes on to list a number of "objectives for the educational program" a few of which are as follows:
1. Foster students' self-discovery, self-awareness, and self-discipline.
2. Stimulate students' intellectual curiosity and growth.
3. Provide students with fundamental career concepts and skills.
4. Help students strive for excellence and instill a desire to reach the limits of their potential.
5. Encourage students to become life-long learners.
These educational objectives as written in the District's Handbook are spot-on. And these educational objectives should continue to be the bedrock of the District's education program.
Now ask yourself, "How are these objectives achieved?" In our humble opinion, it is through a combination of experienced, dedicated teachers, a broad, but fundamental curriculum supported by adequate and relevant instructional materials and resources presented in safe, appealing facilities that provide a climate which encourage and stimulate the achievement of these objectives.
We believe it is the extent to which the District is able to achieve the above-mentioned educational objectives that ultimately defines the quality of education that our children receive. And two of the most critical components which drive the quality of education are our teachers and our facilities.
Now ask yourself a second set of questions, "How will the proposed changes to close the high school and reshuffle teachers, staff and students, and the other associated changes and adjustments affect the achievement of the educational objectives listed above and by extension, the "quality" of our children's education?
How will larger class sizes, additional duties and stress on our educators, less time for student/teacher interaction, more bus time for a greater number of students, the co-location of 7th through 12th grade students in the same building, the elimination of specialized spaces such as a gymnasium and computer lab impact quality? And this is by no means a complete list of all the issues that have the potential to take a toll on the quality of education side of the equation.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to assess and measure the impact of these concerns. There is no formula you can plug these variables into and compute the impact to quality of education. But make no mistake, there will be a very real, and we believe, negative impact to West Carroll's educational program and, therefore, the overall quality of education that the district will be providing to our children going forward if this building reorganization is implemented as proposed.
We continue to believe that the administration and board of education have not done sufficient due diligence to date to make a decision of this magnitude and implement it across the school district by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, which is what we believe is being contemplated.
We wholeheartedly agree with the comments directed to the administration and school board by former board member Jerry Anderson, at the December 2019 School Board meeting when he reminded the current board that when the districts first consolidated many of their decisions were rushed. "And as many of you know, we're still paying for those decisions," Anderson was quoted as saying.
Furthermore, although the board has commissioned and presented an enrollment and facilities study, there is not sufficient detail in the study to conclude that closing the West Carroll High School is the best or only alternative going forward. This should not be the only alternative that the board examines prior to making a decision. As board member Fred Tipton suggested at the November 2019 School Board meeting, "We have to look at every scenario and every possibility."
So, what should the Board of Education do at this point? First and foremost, follow Jerry Anderson's suggestion, slow down. This decision will likely be one of the most consequential that this administration and board will make. Please take the time to learn from past mistakes and not repeat them. Slow down and get it right.
Second, as current board member, Fred Tipton suggested, "Look at every scenario." The administration and board need to undertake a more thorough investigation of the pros and cons of not only the building reorganization approach, but also other alternatives, including retaining the current high school.
Third, put together a committee of administrators, teachers and community members to undertake an examination of the effects that a potential consolidation will have on "quality of education" issues such class size, teacher productivity and effectiveness, extra-curricular activities, co-habiting middle school and high school students, bussing more students greater distances, the elimination of specialized spaces, etc. We need to ensure that the impacts to the district's educational program are adequately analyzed and considered also.
Fourth, partner with the mayors of each of our communities to better understand the prospects for and impacts from potential future growth from new businesses, existing businesses, the prison, etc. All of our communities are taking steps to encourage future growth and we believe that a reasonable case can be made for modest growth which would bring new families to the district over the next 3 - 5 years, which could, in turn, actually push enrollment up for the first time in many years. Though future growth in enrollment is likely to be moderate and gradual, it could quickly lead to overcrowding coming on the heels of a building consolidation.
We respectfully request all members of the administration and board of education to thoughtfully consider the above thoughts and suggestions. Remember, a successful outcome for everyone — the administration, school board, teachers, staff, students and the residents of our communities — depends upon there being a comprehensive, open and participative process that examines the pros and cons of the broadest range of possible alternatives from both an economic and quality of education perspective in a fair and objective fashion.
Dave and Kay Engaldo