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Mom of 4 plaintiffs testifies at U46 discrimination trial (Sun-Times Media)

CHICAGO — Tracy McFadden would have liked to have known about School District U46’s high school academy programs, she said. That way, she could have helped her oldest daughter “further her education so she could make better decisions if she wanted to go to college.”

But, McFadden said, she didn’t learn about the academies until Danielle was a freshman in high school. Danielle since has graduated from the Elgin school district.

She also would have liked to have known about U46’s elementary school gifted program for her daughter Dinah, now 13, she said.

That could have meant “a better education for her,” she said.

McFadden and four of her children — Daniel, Danielle, Deonte and Dinah — are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, McFadden v. U46. The Elgin mom of six finally testified in that case Wednesday in the bench trial being decided by Judge Robert Gettleman in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.

That lawsuit alleges U46 did not offer students who were black and Hispanic access to its gifted and academy programs. It also alleges the state’s second-largest school district discriminated against black and Hispanic students in its 2004 school boundary plan by placing them in overcrowded schools, and it did not offer appropriate help to ELL (English Language Learner) students.

It originally was filed by nine Hispanic students and their parents in February 2005 and was amended to include the McFaddens in May of that year. The trial began in March 2011.

For the rest of the story, read Mom of 4 plaintiffs testifies at U46 discrimination trial (Sun-Times Media).

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Officials, student dispute prior testimony at U46 trial (Sun-Times Media)

CHICAGO — Once, former School District U46 Director of Bilingual Education Dionnes Rivera gave then-assistant director Carmen Rodriguez a list of teachers to write recommendations for to Aurora University, Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez protested she didn’t know all the teachers and certainly hadn’t evaluated them all, and Rivera took it back.

Another time, Rodriguez interviewed the relative of an acquaintance of the two administrators, she said. She didn’t feel that person had sufficient English language skills for the position, she said, but some time later, Rivera gave her a slip that told her to hire that person.

All this played into Rodriguez’s decision in 2005 to apply for and accept a new position within the Elgin school district as principal of Ontarioville Elementary School in Hanover Park, she said.

“Dr. Rivera and I were having professional differences,” said Rodriguez, now assistant superintendent for elementary education in U46.

“I didn’t agree with all her decisions.”

Those differences continued Tuesday as Rodriguez disputed testimony given previously by Rivera in the racial discrimination trial against the state’s second-largest school district, as the case resumed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.

For the rest of the story, read Officials, student dispute prior testimony at U46 trial (Sun-Times Media).

D300 hosts open house for Springfield lawmakers (Sun-Times Media)

Community Unit School District 300 was back in Springfield Tuesday.

But this time, there was no legislation to extend an economic development area (EDA) within the district’s boundaries. There were no posterboards or marches or busloads of students, although the familiar red shirts did make a reappearance.

This was a Legislative Open House, hosted across the street from the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

It was a reiteration that the Carpentersville-based school district is not a “one-issue” district, according to a written statement from District 300 — and of Superintendent Michael Bregy’s vow, in his first year in charge of the district, to“become more legislatively active.

“When we worked on the Sears EDA legislation in the fall, we told the legislators that we would not go away. This open house was one example of our school district’s ongoing dedication to the legislative process,” said Steve Fiorentino, co-chair of the District 300 Board Legislative Committee.

For the rest of the story, read D300 hosts open house for Springfield lawmakers (Sun-Times Media).

Educators: U46’s gifted-program language aid helpful (Sun-Times Media)

CHICAGO — Cindy Wendt remembers one boy she had in a bilingual class who was “the most phenomenal student.”

He learned things, he picked things up, he wanted to try new things, Wendt said. But he only had been in classes for English Language Learners for a short time, she said, and his English wasn’t good enough to keep up in a general education or gifted classroom.

Gifted students like that boy who don’t get the challenges they need, tend to “stall out” in middle school, she said.

Later, after Wendt began teaching a sixth-grade gifted class for Spanish-speaking students at Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin, she had his brother in her class. He went on to study engineering, she said.

That’s the difference the Spanish English Transition School Within A School (SET SWAS) program can make for gifted students who need support in Spanish, Wendt testified Wednesday in the racial discrimination trial against Elgin School District U46.

The lawsuit alleges U46 discriminated against black and Hispanic students by placing them in overcrowded schools in its 2004 school boundary plan. It also alleges the state’s second-largest school district did not offer students who were black or Hispanic access to gifted and advanced programs, or appropriate help to ELL students.

Wendt confirmed during cross-examination by plaintiffs’ attorney Stewart Weltman she remembered another student, a girl who received straight A’s in an English-only third-grade classroom. She also told U46 attorney Jennifer Smith she was “quite certain” that student benefited from receiving support in Spanish in her SET SWAS classroom.

“They definitely need that support because they’re still developing those skills. It takes a long time to learn a language,” Wendt said.

For the rest of the story, read Educators: U46’s gifted-program language aid helpful (Sun-Times Media).

Expert on gifted education calls U46 programming ‘exemplary’ (Sun-Times Media)

CHICAGO — Last month, Judge Robert Gettleman questioned how a school district putting Hispanic students it considered proficient in English into a gifted program solely for Spanish-speaking students was not segregation. That would mean Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided, Gettleman said at the time.

But Carolyn Callahan said Tuesday Elgin School District U46’s Spanish English Transition School Within A School (SET SWAS) program was “significantly” different from the case in Brown v. Board.

SET SWAS students choose to be part of the program, said Callahan, a professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. They also mix with other students at their schools for classes outside the core curriculum, such as art, music and PE, as well as lunch and recess.

“It’s language-based, not race-based,” she said.

Callahan, an expert witness on gifted education for U46, began her testimony Tuesday in the racial discrimination lawsuit against Illinois’ second-largest school district.

For the rest of the story, read Expert on gifted education calls U46 programming ‘exemplary’ (Sun-Times Media).