Tiger Elementary May 10

Construction on Tiger Elementary continues to move along, but there have recently been some questions about why the addition to West Elementary needs its own name and principal.

With construction underway on the two-story addition north of West Elementary, questions have been raised regarding operations in the new learning space.

Late last month, the School Board approved a name for the new building — Tiger Elementary — officially marking it as a separate building from West Elementary. But, some have asked, why does an addition need a new name? Wasn't it pitched as an add-on? 

"It's more philosophical than anything," said District 423 Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden. "We didn't want to interrupt the intimate setting we had in the first building. It's unique to have preschool through first grade in one building."

When Tiger Elementary opens its doors, it will serve students in second and third grades. West Elementary will be reserved as a space for the district's earliest learners, serving kindergarten and first grade, in addition to younger students in pre-kindergarten. Park Elementary will serve fourth and fifth grades.

"It works so well to have an intimate setting for students and staff," VanderHeiden said. "We wanted (Tiger Elementary) to have its own independent process."

Rooms that will open up in West Elementary after Tiger Elementary is completed will allow it to incorporate Early Childhood Family Education. ECFE was previously offered out of a small satellite building. Students will have a familiar setting and see familiar faces as they are guided from their first steps in education, and educators will be able to work closely together.

"We think it's the best combination to be successful with our youngest learners," VanderHeiden said.

Though the schools will operate independently — Tiger Elementary even has its own address — the new space will remain connected to the first as part of a cost-saving plan. In addition to utility sharing, common spaces can be shared. Though the buildings have separate cafeterias and serving kitchens, only one large commercial kitchen is needed. The schools can also share gym space and a media center.

"Typically the kids at West use it once a week to check out books. It's not a daily back and forth," VanderHeiden said. "So we thought it would be a good trade-off to share that space."

In addition to its own name, Tiger Elementary will have its own principal, which some have questioned as an expansion of administrative staff. 

Previously, Park Elementary had a principal and assistant principal supervising the school's four grade levels. That kept the ratio of principals to teachers and principals to students in line with the ratio of other buildings. With two grade levels moving to Tiger Elementary, that assistant principal position will be removed in favor of a principal position at Tiger Elementary.

Though there is no net gain in administrators, a principal position will have a salary higher than an assistant principal position.

"We think it's a good trade-off to have a principal in charge of that building, especially running two independent buildings," VanderHeiden said.