DeKalb Public Schools is opening a new elementary school in 2025. Here's how the community can weigh in on the project.
The DeKalb School District plans to open a new elementary school in the fall of 2025. This week, the district held its first community conversation about the new school at the new site.
In July, the school board agreed to a lease-to-purchase plan for the building in DeKalb’s north corridor. It was previously home to Northern Illinois University’s nursing program. The district plans to completely renovate and build an addition for even more classrooms.
Amonaquenette Parker is the director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at DeKalb Public Schools. She says the district has needed a new elementary school for years.
“Yeah, for a long time. It just was something that honestly just wasn't affordable,” said Parker. “We want to be responsible with the taxpayers' money. We want to be responsible with our students as well.”
But, why now? She says the former nursing program property was an opportunity too good to pass up. The district expects the renovation plan to cost $33 million. But Parker says the district has enough cash saved that they won’t need extra tax support from residents.
Dozens of community members gathered at the new site to talk about the plans. Families looked at future layouts and design plans. In just a few months, many of the walls are coming down as construction begins.
Malia Jones lives in the neighborhood. She has a son who will be ready for elementary school by the time the school opens. So, she had a lot of questions for school leaders.
“I was just curious to see, what was the direction of the school?” she said. “If they're gonna have any more evolved programs. I like to hear that they’re going to have the social emotional learning programs coming in. I want to know how communicative they're going to be with the community, because a lot of the issues out here are a barrier with communication.”
Jones was happy to see families who live in the neighborhood at the meeting. Residents raised environmental concerns about potential flooding and saving trees planted on the grounds years ago.
Safety was another major issue for some who spoke at the meeting. It’s first on the list for Kay Harned.
“How will the children be kept safe within the neighborhood?” said Harned.
It’s designed to be a neighborhood school that a majority of students can walk to, but there were concerns about kids being able to safely cross streets.
Parker says one-third of the district's elementary school students live in the neighborhood. And some parents like Jayaunna Young are really excited to have a new school close to home.
“It's accessible, it's easy to walk to,” she said. “It just gives parents peace of mind who live in the surrounding areas.”
There were also worries about staffing. Would the district be able to hire enough teachers and support personnel for the new school? The building will have rooms dedicated to physical and occupational therapy for students who need those special education services. Many districts have had a difficult time finding enough special education teachers.
Amonaquenette Parker says class sizes are a big concern for DeKalb. Right now, several elementary schools are completely full. The goal is to get class sizes down to 28 students. She says some rooms at the high school and elementary school have upward of 35 students.
“And so we have been, in essence, squeezing students into classrooms," she said. "We have classrooms that are over what we would like it to be, we would like to get it down to 28."
After the conversation, many locals still had a lot of questions. But there will be more events over the next few months. Amonaquenette Parker wants to encourage the community members to take an active role in the project. She says people can join committees to help make decisions regarding everything from special programs or the type of playground equipment.
Those who want to join committees can contact the school district office. Whether you’re interested in swing sets or school safety -- the next community conversation about the new school will be on October 26th.