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Parents, school officials work for class size solution at Elgin school
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Published: 10/2/2009 12:04 AM

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Stories about parents and school officials who are at odds regularly make the news.

Word about compromises between the two sectors is slightly more novel.

After parents at Creekside Elementary school in Elgin expressed concerns that single grade classes for gifted students would be turned into multi-age splits to keep class sizes down, parents, teachers and administrators together negotiated a compromise.

The result? No splits this year, but slightly larger fifth-grade classes at Creekside's School Within A School program.

"No splits! Yes!" Tess Copland, mother of sixth-grade twins Hadley and Brandon exclaimed.

Copland says she was alerted to the situation earlier this month, when her twins came home in tears.

More than three weeks into the school year, they'd been told that class sizes were too big, and to fix the problem, students would be moved into combination fifth-sixth grade classes.

With a bare bones budget, more combination classes have popped up across Elgin Area School District U-46's 40 elementary schools this fall, district officials say.

Combination classes are more cost-effective than paying for a teacher's aide to work alongside a teacher in larger classrooms.

Under the current Elgin Teachers Association contract, teachers must be given an aide if their classes are larger than 30 students.

At Creekside, a total of 51 students would have been affected by the change, District Gifted Coordinator Nan Ochs said.

Part of Elgin Area School District U-46's gifted program, SWAS at Creekside is highly competitive. The admission process weighs students' test scores, writing samples, and interviews with gifted teachers in the program.

In recent, Ochs said, several "brainstorming" meetings between parents and administrators took place.

Then last week, a large parent meeting was held at Creekside to announce a new decision: the classes wouldn't be reconfigured because fifth-grade teacher Vicki Garwood waived her right to a teaching assistant. Ochs called the move "collaboration at its best."

Copland said parents are thrilled, and plan to continue to check in on how the fifth grade teacher is doing with such a large class, as well as the impact the move might have on next year.