Shift in assistant role raises red flag in District 203

A plan to revise the way Naperville School District 203 provides extra support or enrichment in the classroom met sharp criticism from parents, even before the plan officially was announced.

In a statement released late Friday on the district’s Talk203 notification system, Superintendent Dan Bridges outlined the learning support model that will be instituted in the 2014-15 school year that will benefit students, learning and classrooms in kindergarten through second grade.

He said the model is based on best practices of 21st century classrooms.

“The old model of pulling out young children for support or enrichment that is disconnected from the curriculum is outdated. The new approach will have assistants and teachers in the classroom collaborating in a way that connects kids to the core curriculum based on their need, whether for support or enrichment,” the statement says.

District 203 parent Jennifer Hjager said she likes the one-on-one time her child receives from a LEAP reading intervention specialist and would prefer that not go away. She sees this move to be similar to the plan to eliminate enrichment for students that was introduced four year ago.

In a letter to the Board of Education earlier in the week, parent Bill Collins echoed Hjager’s concerns, noting that his first-grade son receives one-on-one help. He is worried that eliminating LEAP will shortchange students.

Deputy Superintendent Kaine Osburn said the biggest benefit is that students will remain in the classroom where they will receive the necessary support or enrichment they need to help them meet the rigorous demands of the Common Core State Standards. Under the old LEAP reading and enrichment programs, students were pulled from the classroom and missed out on whatever core curriculum was taught during that time.

In the plan, an instruction assistant would work with small groups of students, provide individual support or enrichment, manage student behavior, conduct assessments of students, and collaborate with teachers on student progress.

Before the plan can be implemented, the district needs to create the position of instructional assistant. The administration is calling for 48 full-time people to fill those roles.

That means the positions of LEAP (reading intervention), K-LEAP (kindergarten reading intervention), reading assistants and enrichment assistants will be eliminated. Currently 31 full-time and 40 part-time staff people fill those positions.

The full-time employees will have “recall rights” for the instructional assistant jobs and will be hired for the new positions based on seniority.

“Our assistants are experienced, know our children, and they will be essential to our new approach,” said Bridges.

Osburn said the goal is to hire many current employees to fill the 48 positions.

In addition to the full support of all of the elementary principals, the plan has the backing of the union that represents the workers.

“NESPA and District 203’s priority are the students,” said Cis Meyer, president of the Naperville Education Support Professionals Association. “NESPA will continue to provide educational support for the students and collaborate with the teachers and all District 203 employees for the success of the students.”

The shift to the new model was field-tested at Ranch View and earned high praise from teachers at the school. In a report to the School Board on March 3, school officials said students benefited from the collaboration between teachers and support team members to plan instruction and determine who is responsible for re-teaching or extension work.

The administration will provide an update on the new learning model at next the School Board meeting at 7 p.m. April 7 at the Administrative Center, 203 W. Hillside Road, Naperville.

While the Board of Education is not required to vote on the shift in the curriculum, the board must vote on creating the new position and the elimination of the old ones. Osburn said getting the update to the board April 7 is important because the effected staff must be given adequate notification of the elimination of their positions and time to apply for the new jobs.