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Aurora education stories to watch in 2014

Students shield their heads from sun with backpacks during their early dismissal from Hill Elementary West AurorFriday. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times

Students shield their heads from the sun with backpacks during their early dismissal from Hill Elementary in West Aurora Friday. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 7, 2014 6:04AM

As the new year begins, Aurora parents, school staff and students will see some changes and school boards will have some tough votes early in the year.

Here are some of the top education stories to watch in 2014:

Aurora University STEM school agreement

Aurora University broke ground on the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School this summer. Slated to open by the start of next school year, the brand-new facility will house 200 third- to eighth-grade students from West Aurora, East Aurora, Oswego and Indian Prairie who will study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

School boards from the four school districts are expected to vote on the finalized operating agreement, which has yet to be made public, in early 2014. Details that still have to be hashed out include the exact funding structure for fees and sending students and staff to the STEM school, and the agreement with the teachers unions, since teachers from all four schools will work “on loan” at the university.

The agreement also will cover the STEM school’s governance structure and student selection.

After all schools come to an agreement, parents can watch for information sessions and the start of their district’s application process to the STEM school.

New superintendents coming

Three local districts are in the process of finding a new top administrator and are expected to announce their choices in early 2014.

West Aurora School Board President Neal Ormond said the board expects to announce a superintendent by the end of January, after narrowing down the search from 58 candidates. According to its search timeline, Indian Prairie plans to conduct second-round interviews with finalists the first week in February and East Aurora plans to select a superintendent the same month.

West Aurora capital projects

After a late summer heat and humidity wave led to four days of early dismissal at West Aurora schools, the district’s school board is considering $23.9 million in heating and cooling system upgrades that would bring air conditioning to all buildings.

That’s in addition to another possible $31.9 million in security upgrades and facility add-ons and renovations. The school board is expected to vote in early 2014 on which capital projects are top priorities and whether the district should ask taxpayers to help pay the cost through a referendum in 2014, or whether the district should restructure its bond debt to pay for the upgrades.

New kindergarten
center in East Aurora

As East Aurora closes on the building at 250 E. Indian Trail that will become the new kindergarten center, the district has to prepare for what could be $8.6 million in renovations.

The 17,500-square-foot facility that used to be a church and a nursery store will eventually house 22 classrooms. A public bid for construction is slated to go out in January and work could start as soon as February or March.

In the past, public bids have come in over the district’s estimates for construction projects. The cost of this summer’s East Aurora High School project, which added classrooms and counselor offices and filled in the pool to create a multi-purpose space, cost $367,500 more than the architects’ original high-end estimate of $2.4 million.

Standardized test changes

Illinois public schools will administer their last Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, in 2014.

The ISAT is slated to be replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, in the 2014-15 school year. But before the ISAT departs, students will take the hardest test yet, as all reading and math questions will be aligned to the more difficult Common Core State Standards.

Starting Jan. 1, it will be more difficult for English-language learners in Illinois to test out of bilingual services, thanks to higher proficiency scores. Students now must obtain a composite proficiency score of 5.0 and reading and writing proficiencies of 4.2 on the ACCESS test to be considered proficient in English. That’s up from a composite score of 4.8 in previous years.

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