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Naperville Central High School (NCHS) is worn beyond minor repair; it’s time for its infrastructure to be substantially replaced and modernized.
THE CASE FOR CENTRAL
Many have asked, “Why do we need to spend $87.7 million on Naperville Central High School (NCHS)?
Naperville Central High School (NCHS) is worn beyond minor repair; it’s time for its infrastructure to be substantially replaced and modernized. This does not mean that Central has not been maintained properly as some have claimed; Even when a facility is properly maintained, in time, its mechanicals will still have to be replaced and or modernized. When cost effectiveness is a concern, doing it as a one large project makes sense rather then piece-mealing it. This is what is being proposed for NCHS and is a significant portion of the renovation project expense.
It’s also time to bring the school up to 21st century standards. Simply put, if we want our schools to offer a 21st century educational experience, then we need to have modern educational technology and infrastructure to support it. This is a major concern and cost.
The classroom number and size issue is a complicated question. NCHS average class size is listed as 21.6 students on the ISBE report card. Not so bad, right? Well, it’s not that simple, one number does not show the whole picture. Academic class sizes are all in the upper 20’s (26-29) and the PE classes are in the mid 30’s student. That overall school average is reduced because it includes every class: 20 special education classes, 9 literacy classes and the Academy classes all which have very small class sizes.
To deliver quality educational services, having an adequate number of classrooms matters. For example, District 203’s academy program identifies students that have lower academic standing and places them in small 10-12 student classes giving them the same college prep curriculum that the other students get, but in a small group setting with more one-on-one time with the teacher. The result: Higher academic achievement.
Many people do not realize that one of the most significant recent changes is that now all students are required to take the ACT test. The number of students taking the test has increased greatly and the additional students are typically lower scoring; yet, district 203 has been able to maintain high overall ACT scoring averages due to these specialized programs for the students. But this requires space and a lower teacher to student ratio. If we want to help every student reach their full potential, the district has to have room for these programs, and they need more space.
Having appropriate classroom size matters, too. NCHS classrooms are from 500 square feet (SF) to about 700 SF; too small for the number of kids that occupy them. Large modern metropolitan high schools typically have classrooms built to a 30 student, 30SF per student, 900 total SF educational building standard. Classrooms this size are needed for the large academic core classes and can also be utilized, if available, during the three lunch hours for smaller size classes, too.
Building a school and deciding on its capacities is a lot like designing a highway. You have to allow for the rush hour as best you can otherwise it is chaos.
A school’s “rush hour” is the core academic classes in the morning periods 1-3 (before lunch) and periods 7-8 after lunch. These classes have the largest number of students. To continue our traffic analogy, the district could add “lanes” by adding even more classrooms and teachers to reduce class size. But, a school district has to decide what maximum class size it can live with and design a building around that. Naperville 203 is, we believe, using a typical and sound industry standard that we think is sensible for NCHS.
Interestingly, there is a movement in the country that strives to reduce class sizes for academic courses to below 20 students as outcomes are improved; but as Naperville CUSD 203 is trying to do this as inexpensively as possible, that is just not an option.
CURRENT CLASSROOM CONDITIONS
Central has ZERO space available in periods 1,2,3 and 7 and period 8 is all but full.. They are using basement classrooms, portables, the LRC (library) and any possible place they can shove some kids into to make up the shortfall. This is not conducive to good learning. The shortage of rooms for all academic, elective, small group and individual tutoring classes (that is typical of today’s schools) is a mind-boggling challenge for Naperville Central High School’s principal.
Central needs larger and updated Science labs. They are short five biology classroom spaces. Classes share lab space on an every other day basis and teachers modify their curriculums to deal with the problem.
A larger Kitchen will allow a district wide hot lunch program for all elementary schools and will eliminate inefficiencies; The current kitchen is across one of the busiest hallways in the school from the cafeteria. All food, including hot entrees, must be transported through whatever traffic occupies the hallway during lunch hours. Additionally the new cafeteria will be larger and will be multi-purpose with high ceilings, for example, the cheer and flag girls will be able to practice there.
SPECIAL ED FACILITIES
Appropriately designed, dedicated space is needed for the medically fragile special needs population that attends NCHS. Currently these students, up to age 22, are situated in two former business classrooms in the flat wing (causing the business classes to be shunted outside into the portables). This is not the kind of facilities that these children need. Central’s award winning adaptive PE students are in the hallway as the gyms are needed for every period of the day for other large PE classes.
UNTANGLING THE MESS
The district needs to create an organizational logic to a facility that has suffered from a patchwork of 16 additions over the years. This is important. Looking at the concept drawings, we can see that the various departments spaces can be grouped together allowing for a more efficient use of the space. This includes grouping the academic classrooms together, the PE facilities together and the Music and Theater rooms together. This is not a minor consideration; the traffic flow inside the building is a nightmare. The new plan will consolidate the major and elective areas and significantly improve the movement of students within the building.
More Bathrooms! There are one boys and one girl’s bathroom in the flat wing—we don’t know how they do it.
NCHS as it currently stands is not how a world-class school should have to operate. The correct questions to ask are as follows: Are we willing to spend an additional modest sum to give our students the best educational experience that we can provide? Considering that even after a referendum we will still be considerably less costly than the other highly performing comparable districts (see our analysis here), don’t our children deserve it? Do we think the other school districts will never improve or renovate their facilities.
Ask yourself, if you were moving to the western suburbs and toured some of the local high schools (e.g. Wheaton-Warrenville, Nequa Valley, Plainfield or Glenbard HS) and NCHS, which one would you pick? We think the answer is obvious. These students, our children’s, and the district have earned it. The community should live up to its promise of providing its children with the best educational experience that we can prudently afford and to do another multi-million dollar patch job just doesn’t make sense.