Landmark students could be sent to McHenry neighborhood schools, despite calls to save unique program

Two more public hearing dates announced on future of downtown building

A child holds up the poster she made showing support of Landmark School on Monday, April 22, 2024. A public hearing was held at McHenry Middle School as District 15's board of education considers closing the 130-year-old building at the end of the 2024-2025 school year.

The comments by parents, staff and students Monday night had a nearly identical theme: If McHenry’s Landmark School must be closed, please find a place to keep its programs alive.

McHenry School District 15 officials, however, indicated that if the year-round school of choice in the historic downtown building shuts down, the plan for now is to send students to their neighborhood schools.

An estimated 250 people attended a public hearing on Monday night hosted at McHenry Middle School by District 15. It was the first of three planned sessions to allow the school community to weigh in on plans to close the 130-year-old building.

Prior to opening the microphone for comments, District 15 staff gave parents a rundown of how the school board came to consider the closing of Landmark at the end of the 2024-25 school year.

Kellen Offermann, a fourth grade student at Landmark School, brought a poster to show his support for his elementary school's program on Monday, April 22, 2024. The district is considering closing the 130 year old building at the end of the 2024-2025 school year.

At its April 9 meeting, the board was given estimates of work needed at the school to bring it up to the same standards as other buildings in the district; that cost came in at $10 million to $13 million, Superintendent Josh Reitz said. That estimate was the result of a yearlong look at the district’s 11 facilities, eight of which house students, Reitz said.

The district also hired a demographer to look at 10-year enrollment projections, including a high estimate, low estimate and a “just right” estimate. That demographer expects that in 10 years, the district should have nearly the same amount of students as it does now, about 4,100.

If Landmark is closed, district officials said, the 200 students attending there would be sent back to the schools they are zoned to attend, based on boundary maps. Even with that influx, the district classrooms are expected to average about 20 students each in 10 years.

There is something special about Landmark ... it is a small school, with small school spirit.”

—  James Gurak, Landmark School parent

What the board wants, Reitz said, is to provide the “greatest good for the greatest number” of students, and that might be without having Landmark operating as a school.

Parents, however, said they want to continue the programs now offered at the school – including a year-round attendance schedule and looping – to remain, regardless of where the students attend. A looped classroom is where one group of students remains with the same teacher for multiple school years. In Landmark’s program, one teacher has the same students for two grade levels.

Landmark has offered those programs since 2001, when it it opened as a school of choice in the district. Parents put student names into a lottery to attend, or a younger child is automatically accepted if an older sibling went to Landmark.

Some parents questioned whether the decision to close Landmark school was predetermined.

“When I first heard the news the board would close the school, I felt disappointment. Sheer disappointment. The justification the board used is disingenuous,” parent James Gurak said. Items included in the report as potential upgrades, like an enlarged gymnasium, were not things parents had asked for, he said.

“There is something special about Landmark ... it is a small school, with small school spirit,” Gurak said.

McHenry 2nd Ward Alderman Andy Glab also spoke at the meeting. He watched the April 9 school board meeting on YouTube. “Not one board member brought up the alternatives for this school,” Glab said, and noted that some of the same issues present now were also there “six or seven years ago” when the need for renovations was also brought up. “It is a special type of building and school. Is it the building or the program you are trying to close?”

Additional public hearings are set for 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, and 6 p.m. Monday, May 13, at McHenry Middle School, 2120 W. Lincoln Road, McHenry.