After the sudden departure of one of two fourth-grade teachers at Oak School, District 181 is trying to fill the position while a group of parents is urging a split of the fourth grade into three sections.
Lindsay Wagner resigned last week in the middle of her first year as a full-time teacher in District 181, and her 26 students are now being taught by a long-term substitute teacher as Oak and District 181 administration go through the process of hiring a permanent replacement.
Oak parent Rik Geiersbach, the father of a student in Wagner’s class, said at Monday night’s District 181 Board of Education meeting that he has gathered signatures from a majority of parents from both fourth-grade classes who support breaking the grade up into three classes. Geiersbach said a split would “address a potentially fragile situation” by reducing class size in the wake of Wagner’s departure.
During a transition year in the district where the emphasis on differentiation has increased and some curriculum has been changed, Geiersbach said, Wagner’s departure will lead to other staff members having to lend a hand.
“Being blunt, her departure will have a dramatic impact on not only the children in her class, but the children in Ms. [Heather] Giese’s class, as well,” he said.
Geiersbach proposes the board direct the district to hire two new permanent fourth-grade teachers to reduce class size for the rest of the year, thereby minimizing the adverse effects of the current staff transition.
In addition to the support of a majority of parents in both fourth-grade classes, Geiersbach said his proposal has the backing of the Oak School PTO’s co-presidents.
Since both fourth-grade classes have 26 students, which is just below the district’s recommended maximum of 27 according to human resources director Doug Eccarius, a split would not typically be the go-to remedy in a situation like Oak's.
“We do recognize that this was an abrupt change and we need to do something in order to make sure the transition goes well,” Superintendent Renée Schuster said. “We are considering a variety of options, looking at needs of students.”
One possibility, Schuster said, is to keep the long-term sub on hand for a period of time after the new permanent hire to ease the transition.
The administration will come back at a future meeting with a recommendation on how to proceed, Eccarius said, and provide an opinion on the parents’ desire to split the grade into three sections.
There is a board meeting on Oct. 29, but the administration’s recommendation may not be ready by then. The following meeting is on Nov. 12.
Yvonne Mayer was the only board member who spoke about a potential split. She said she’d support it if there were enough parents who volunteered to move their students to a new class. Nobody, she said, should be forced to move.
“In this particular instance I think there is a reason for the administration to make an exception and split this class,” Mayer said.
The rest of the board members said they would wait to hear the district’s recommendation.
“I’m not going to pre-ordain an answer to this until [the administration] comes and tells me what their rationale is behind a decision,” Board President Michael Nelson said.
Eccarius said he expects it won’t take longer than three weeks to find Wagner’s permanent replacement.
The district also hired a teacher’s aide for Oak School’s fourth grade teachers Monday. Eccarius said that hire was not a reaction to Wagner’s resignation and the position had been posted before the district had any knowledge of the teacher’s departure.