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State superintendent testifies in St. Charles school merger case

GENEVA – State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch testified for more than an hour Wednesday during the bench trial about the legality of a school reconfiguration plan in St. Charles.

An appellate court has directed the 16th Judicial Circuit to determine whether the reorganization of Richmond and Davis elementary schools in 2011 qualified as a school improvement plan under the Illinois School Code.

The trial, presided by Kane County Judge David Akemann, is expected to last several days.

Robert Swain, an attorney for St. Charles School District 303, said failing adequate yearly progress scores led to Richmond losing about 120 students over two years. That led to the district’s initiative that combined attendance zones with Davis, he said.

Attorney Timothy Dwyer – who is representing parents affected by the changes at the schools – asserted that the district circumvented No Child Left Behind regulations when it turned the K-5 schools into schools for grades 3-5 and K-2.

The reconfiguration resulted in a different AYP status at Richmond, which had repeatedly missed academic benchmarks.

“They eliminated four years of failure at Richmond,” Dwyer said.

By doing so, he said, the district potentially avoided a major school restructuring process that is mandated when a school fails AYP for six consecutive years.

“What they did was illegal,” Dwyer said.

Koch – who was called as an expert witness by District 303 – said the change in AYP status was based on the population changes of students and teachers at Richmond. The AYP designation should be a fair representation of students in that building, he said, noting his staff evaluates such status-change requests.

“We’re not acting outside the law in doing this,” Koch said.

The attorneys questioned Koch at length about school improvement plans, which schools are required to create after repeatedly failing to meet AYP.

Although Richmond had a school improvement plan, that doesn’t mean the district couldn’t go above and beyond that by making other changes, such as those affecting personnel and the grades the school serves, Koch said.

Attendance boundaries are “clearly matters of local control,” he said.

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