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Jeanelle Norman 2018

District 61’s decision-makers win the award for creating a mess at Stephen Decatur Middle School. To put it in educational jargon, the decision-makers, including the school board and top administrators, decided to merge two middle schools without a well-developed implementation plan.

However, what does appear to be important is for the Montessori school to occupy the former Thomas Jefferson with almost a year to prepare the building. The question must be begged: Why does Montessori need a larger facility with the estimated enrollment capacity of 1,218 for a program, which typically has an enrollment of approximately 310? In addition, students currently at French Academy will go to Enterprise so that Dennis school can possess two attendance centers.

Information requested under the Freedom of Information Act: How is French School to be utilized when Dennis takes over as its second facility? What grades will the new French house?

Response: a. Please see the ... “Proposed Timeline for 2020-2021." This information was presented during the September 11, 2018 Board of Education meeting. b. There is no document responsive to your request regarding what grades will the new French house.

Hopefully, the disastrous situation faced by students at SDMS will not happen to the students who will be replaced or displaced in the buildings during the 2020-2021 school year.

The school district placed approximately 842 SDMS students in an unrealistic, unsafe school environment, although an elegant proposal was presented to the public at a school board meeting. How ludicrous is it not to have class schedules prepared for 842 students on day one? How inconsiderate was it to invite parents to a “dog and pony show” weeks after the problems had escalated? How unjust is it to mete out unequal discipline treatment for the same fight between two girls because two assistant principals are out of sync with each other?

How negligent was it to be underprepared for the fights that would surely happen, or for other misbehaviors? During the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school terms, the District suspended a total of 1,650 African-Americans and 545 Caucasians for different infractions, which would have included fighting. Was all the behavior data examined relative to the feeder schools and the merger?

The current claim is made that SDMS will monitor the hot spots for fights. Is the girls’ restroom one of the places being monitored? Because that is a notorious place for fights.

Parents should be outraged with SDMS and speak up vehemently. Supposedly, students remained in their homeroom all day at the beginning of school because of schedules not being ready for the 842 students. When a substitute cannot be hired, no teaching takes place as students are just put in a holding pen with a babysitter.

The community should be disgusted and demand better conditions. Talking out of two sides of the mouth will not solve or alleviate the problems at SDMS. However, District 61 needs to let the taxpayers/community know the reason for the urgency in moving Thomas Jefferson to Stephen Decatur. Without a thorough explanation, an aura of suspicion arises.

Any major business makes given preparations prior to a grand opening. Why did District 61 rush to change the middle schools?

Nevertheless, one thing is certain, District 61 was not prepared for the merger. The 842 students (as of the 10th day count) deserve the best environment conducive to learning, not disarray. What role did incompetency and special interests play in the decision to merge the schools?

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Jeanelle Norman is the branch president of the Decatur NAACP.

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