By Bob Skolnik
Officials in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will soon decide whether to add a second section of kindergarten at Blythe Park School next year, in a move that could mean the removal of the landmark school's auditorium.
If a second section of kindergarten is added at Blythe Park, those students would remain at Blythe Park throughout elementary school. This could be the first step to make Blythe Park a two-section school in all grades.
Currently Blythe Park has only one section per grade. If a second section of kindergarten is added at Blythe Park next year, Central School would likely have only two sections of kindergarten, instead of its current three sections.
"We've talked about this as an idea, not a clear recommendation," said Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye.
Making a Blythe Park a complete two section school would probably require transforming the school's auditorium into additional classroom space.
Blythe Park currently has 10 classrooms and a multipurpose room, so additional classroom space is needed to accommodate two sections per grade.
Blythe Park School was built in 1948 and opened its doors in 1949. It was designed by the noted architecture firm of Perkins and Will and is considered a masterpiece of mid-century school design.
It was designated an official Riverside landmark by the village board in 1993.
At the Jan. 17 school board meeting, Ryan-Toye told the school board that she would like the board to decide this month whether or not they want to add a second section of kindergarten at Blythe Park next year.
She wants the decision made prior to the March 8 kindergarten information and registration, so parents would have plenty of time to get their children ready for the school they would attend.
School board President Jeff Miller seems to be the main advocate of turning Blythe Park a two-section school and starting the process by adding a second section of kindergarten at Blythe Park next year.
"I am definitely in favor of looking seriously at that," said Miller.
Miller said having two sections of a grade at any school fosters collaboration among teachers and is good for kids.
"Having two sections in a grade is an advantage," Miller said.
In a separate interview, Miller said that Blythe Park was built to house two sections per grade, and that the original Perkins and Will plans confirm that. At the time there weren't separate classrooms for art and music.
"They had two half day kindergartens, and then they had two sections of [grades] one through five, and the school was designed to accommodate more than 300 kids, if you go back and you look at the actual documents," Miller said. "Even though we wouldn't put that many kids there today, it clearly could accommodate many more students than we currently send there."
Some other board members expressed skepticism of making a change next year.
At its Feb. 7 meeting, the school board will receive a new Master Facilities Plan from its architect. The report will address facilities needs in the district and possible solutions.
Last month, school board member Shari Klyber seemed opposed to adding a second section of kindergarten at Blythe Park next year. Klyber said she wanted to wait for the facilities review before making a decision.
"I feel it's premature," Klyber said on Jan. 17. "I don't think you can do it in time or even figure out a solution in time for March."
Board member David Barsotti also expressed reservations about moving a section of kindergarten from Central to Blythe Park next year.
"While it would alleviate some problems this year it could open up more problems down the road," Barsotti said. "I would feel that if we did this this, then we would have to do something at Blythe to make it a two-section school."
Currently the district's preschool program is housed at Blythe Park. If it eventually becomes a two-section school in every grade, the preschool program would have to be moved somewhere, probably to Central School. The preschool program currently uses three classrooms.
Miller said no decisions would have to be made immediately about creating additional classrooms at Blythe Park or moving the preschool program, even if a second kindergarten section is added at Blythe Park next year.
Board members are interested in hearing from residents of the Blythe Park area about how they would feel about turning the school's auditorium into additional classroom space.
Blythe Park Principal Casimira Gorman said she would have no problem with adding another kindergarten section at Blythe Park. Currently, 199 students attend Blythe Park, 70 of whom are in the pre-kindergarten program.
"I would welcome more students at Blythe Park," Gorman said.