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Residents question Dolton District 149 officials on school renovations, use of temporary classrooms

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Dolton Elementary District 149 shared plans for major renovations at three elementary schools over two years during a town hall meeting Wednesday, leaving some parents worried about the learning environment for their children in the meantime.

Berger-Vandenberg and Diekman schools in Dolton and Caroline Sibley in Calumet City are to be renovated back-to-back from this summer through January 2026, Superintendent Maureen White told about 100 parents, children and others.

“We are going to have three new schools — imagine that,” White said. “Three new schools in two years. As a taxpayer, I think it’s important that you know where your tax dollars go. And what better place for your tax dollars to go than to new schools for our children.”

Before announcing the specific changes, White asked everyone in the audience to shout, “new.” All buildings will be have new windows, floors, ceilings, lighting, restrooms, doors and lockers as well as computer labs and media centers, she said. Depending on the district’s ability to fund them, some schools will have new main offices and gymnasiums.

“We have to prioritize because we’re not a rich school district,” White said.

When the district raises enough funds, it will put new gyms and media centers in the incomplete schools, she said.

Mashantala Kidd, who has a son in Dolton Elementary District 149, raises her hand during a town hall meeting on school renovations June 5, 2024. (Olivia Stevens/Daily Southtown)

Berger-Vandenberg students should be able to return to their school after the upcoming winter break, White said. Diekman construction will close the school from January through August 2025, with students able to return the following fall. Construction at Caroline Sibley will last from August 2025 through January 2026, with students coming back after that year’s winter break.

But White cautioned the schedule is subject to change if renovations stall for any reason.

“What I don’t want you all to do is hold us fast and tight on this timeline,” White said.

She mentioned supply chain issues following the COVID-19 pandemic as presenting potential holdups on certain building updates.

Students at the three affected schools will be placed in temporary classrooms in other elementary schools depending on the status of the renovations. For example, while Caroline Sibley undergoes renovations, those students will be brought into the already completed Diekman and Berger-Vandenberg buildings.

Latasha and Marcellus Ford said they were skeptical of some of the plans, raising concerns about knowing in advance about changes in bus routes that would affect their soon-to-be second grade daughter with school locations change.

“Everything is so not together right now,” Latasha Ford said.

Marcellus Ford said communications from the school district are inconsistent, with parents finding out important information, such as date and time of the town hall meeting, through robocall with little advanced notice.

Those worries were echoed by parents Mario and Mashantala Kidd, who expressed frustrations about what they said was a lack of clarity provided by White during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting. They said the school renovations could exacerbate issues that already exist within the district.

“I’d like to see what the space they’re moving them into is going to look like,” Mashantala Kidd said.

Mario Kidd asked if the other school would be overcrowded during the renovation.

“As far as physical bodies, it’s already … 30-some students in a class. Where are these other kids going to go?” he asked. “You’re talking about a whole school and putting them in that building that doesn’t have a lot of space as it is.”

White said the school board chose to prioritize keeping children within the district to help with busing logistics, and said students will have access to the same technologies they had in their own schools.

“I need for everyone to understand there will be no slight to any of our students because of the move,” White said. “They will have the same teaching and learning experiences that they currently have in their building.”

White also announced several changes to curriculum for middle school students this upcoming year. Students will change their studies to take part in the Creative Communications Academy in sixth grade, the School of Fine Arts in seventh grade and the STEM Academy in eighth grade, rather than choosing one of schools of focus for their seventh and eighth grade years.

She said over the past few years the curricula for the three separate paths have blended together and students will benefit from being able to learn more about each topic.

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