Dist. 59 board rejects superintendent's plan to pair schools, close Ridge

  • The Ridge Family Center for Learning -- Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59's school of choice that operates on a balanced calendar -- was sparred from a repurposing as part of a 5-2 school board vote Monday.

    The Ridge Family Center for Learning -- Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59's school of choice that operates on a balanced calendar -- was sparred from a repurposing as part of a 5-2 school board vote Monday. Daily Herald File Photo 2002

  • Terri Bresnahan

    Terri Bresnahan

Updated 12/13/2022 8:48 PM

The Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 school board has rejected new Superintendent Terri Bresnahan's controversial proposal that would have reconfigured elementary schools into grade level centers, redistricted some areas, and repurposed the year-round Ridge Family Center into a preschool.

The 5-2 vote Monday night follows months of study and analysis by Bresnahan and her administrative team after she took the helm in July 2021 and looked for ways to even out access to resources and opportunities across all 15 schools.


The equity plan came after the departure of her predecessor Art Fessler, who faced significant community opposition for curriculum changes.

"I see Dr. Bresnahan's heart for this work and her passion, and I know that it's hard for a lot of us in this district to sort of trust and believe, because I think we've trusted and believed before and felt like we've been burned," said board Vice President Courtney Lang, who called her "no" vote one of her toughest decisions.

Lang said Fessler's curriculum, though well-intentioned, was one of two "traumas" district staff and families have experienced, along with the pandemic. As a result, Lang said she was open to the school pairings proposal, but wants to bring teachers and the community along on the journey instead of it being a "top-down decision."

Lang tried to broker a compromise among those opposed to the plans and the "yes" votes -- President Randy Reid and Joseph Sagerer, who was the plan's most ardent supporter. Sagerer suggested a delayed implementation timeline to wind down Ridge as a school of choice and to pair the 10 other elementary schools.

But the pairings -- by which five buildings would become primary schools (grades K-2) and five would become intermediate schools (grades 3-5) -- appeared to be the third rail for the other "no" votes.

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"I don't want to have this plan on the back of my mind all the time as a boogeyman or whatever," said longtime board member Mardell Schumacher. "I want to forget about it and start a new way."

In recommending the changes, Bresnahan cited eight areas of improvement, from demographic imbalances and fluctuating class sizes, to enrollment differences and programming variations from school to school.

Sagerer said the board's rejection was the "path to 40 more years" of inequality and Band-Aid fixes in the district.

"Right now, we as a community have a system where students can fall into a hole that they can never get out of," he said. "For many of our students the pandemic is over and the trauma is healing, as they have had a normal year. But for those students who do not get the help they need and deserve, this is still not a normal year. They will never know a normal year until we make changes that reach them. Their trauma endures."

But Robert Mancilla -- who said he supports equity and doesn't think the status quo is fine -- questioned whether the plan presented was "the best way and only way to get this done."

"We've placed the spotlight on what needs to be fixed," he said. "We need to determine what is the best way to fix the things that we have put the spotlight on."

The vote came on the first day of candidates filing for the spring elections, in which a three-person slate opposed to Bresnahan's plan submitted petitions to get on the ballot. The slate is led by Elk Grove Village library board member TR Johnson -- son of Mayor Craig Johnson -- and also includes Sarah Dzak and Lucas Szczesny. The filing period ends next Monday.

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