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District 153 school board ready to decide referendum needs

Closing Homewood’s Millennium School was a tough decision for District 153 school board members, but they are confident students will adjust well to the restructured schools next year.

“We have to make a choice tonight, and as we have always done, we have to put the students first,” Board President Shelly Marks said before the board voted on the change at its Monday, Nov. 16, board meeting. “In order to do what we want to do for children in the district, we have to find ways to save a great deal of money, so therefore, with a heavy heart, we’re going to refigure our schools to three grade centers.”

The district hopes to save $600,000 with changes in bus service and administrative and staff layoffs at Millennium which now serves fifth and six graders.

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Reconfiguring the schools will not mean changes to Willow School serving pre-kindergarten through second grade. The biggest change will be at Churchill School which will add an estimated 188 students and serve third, fourth and fifth graders. James Hart School will pick up sixth grade and become a traditional middle school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

“I know that regardless of where fifth graders and sixth graders are in the future, they are going to show the same growth because they are going to be exposed to the same wonderful staff,” Marks said.

Churchill Principal CeCe Coffey told the audience at an earlier informational meeting that Churchill can easily accommodate the fifth grade class. The school has three wings making it easy to give each grade level its own space.  In addition, the building has space to add a second learning center for interventions and special programs.

Churchill’s start time would change by 15 minutes to accommodate changes in bus routes.

“There are inherently some things about fifth grade—the way it’s run currently—that are really good for fifth graders. Because they will be located someplace else doesn’t mean we won’t maintain those things,” Coffey said.

Fifth grade is a bridge between elementary and middle school, the principal noted. She will work with fifth grade staff to maintain those important transitional experiences.

Hart Principal Scott McAlister said rooms on the west side of the Millennium/Hart campus at 183rd and Aberdeen, will be used for other purposes. Scheduling lunch and gym in the shared cafetorium will be easier with fewer students in the building.

The core learning and instruction will be maintained, he stressed.

“Our teachers have the opportunity to meet together every week to discuss how their students are performing. (Because of grade centers) Teachers are teaching the same set of students, and those conversations are rich in terms of what they’re able to do to help students become more successful.  That structure would be maintained,” McAlister said.

Millennium School was dedicated in 2002 when District 153 switched to grade centers as a way to improve academics, share resources, reduce costs and relieve the district’s overcrowding.

“Many of you were at Millenium the day it opened and planned to make the school a great success from the minute we conceived of it.  You never failed your mission,” Marks told teachers and staff before the vote to close the school.

At the time, the district took James Hart Junior High and converted it to two schools by building a fine arts wing, a shared cafeteria, and a sports complex built in conjunction with the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District that is used during the day by the school district.

The building conversion changes were funded by taxpayers and special school construction money made available by the State of Illinois.  

 

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