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U-46 Board discusses 2016-17 school calendar

By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 is currently seeking feedback with an online survey, found at u-46.org, on the draft calendar that was presented to the Board of Education on Monday, Nov. 16.
  The first day of class in the 2016-17 school year if this calendar were approved, would be on Monday, Aug. 15, a week later for the start of preschool, and the final day on Friday, May 19. High school graduation would be Saturday, May 27.
  New board member Jeanette Ward does not like the earlier start dates, something that started in the 2013-14 school year. The district administration said then, as they do now, that it’s needed in order to have first semester final exams for U-46 high school students before the winter break.
  “The middle of August is way too early to start school in my opinion,” said Ward who suggested there are other options like looking at changing the winter break.
  Ward also noted that the administration at that time, then with Superintendent Jose Torres, the earlier start date was a move towards possibly going to year-round school, something she opposes.
  Melanie Meidel, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, said during the presentation that the administration drafted the calendar’s winter break to align with local school districts.
  “We need to stay aligned because many of our employees are parents of our neighboring districts,” Meidel said.
  The winter break would be the final two weeks of December, starting on Monday the 19th and returning on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
  Board member Traci Ellis differed with Ward saying that the decision had been made previously, and that the community supported an earlier start date.
  “We had that discussion ad nauseam before, and we heard from a lot of people both pro and con,” Ellis said. “And if I remember correctly, the board had the administration go back out and do a community survey about it and I think when it was all said and done with the responses that we got, the community favored the earlier start date so that we could have the two weeks together in December.”
  However, the community feedback overwhelmingly did not support an earlier start date twice after surveys were sent out. The first year of an earlier start for the 2013-14 school year produced only 35 percent support according to then Chief of Staff Tony Sanders, currently the U-46 CEO.
  The board adopted two calendars the next time it voted on proposals, for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, in which U-46 sought Aug. 13 and Aug. 12 start dates in those respective years. According to an FAQ page still available on the district’s website, the survey for those calendars showed “approximately 90 percent of the thousands of people who responded opposed the earlier start.”
  Ward later told The Examiner that changing the winter break was only a suggestion as a possible option to be able to start school later. She also said that it’s unfair to the rest of the students if an earlier start date is sought only for the district’s high school students to be able to take final exams.
  When the first earlier start date was proposed, opponents said that they’ve seen their high school students use the winter break to study for those exams. Several parents opposed the earlier start due to warmer weather making it hard to get their children to bed early enough, something Ellis dismissed then and now.
  Although Ellis said she can relate to those parent concerns, she’s “not sure if we should be making educational decisions based off whether you can get your kid in bed.”
  “For all the reasons that this was vetted a few years ago, I still support it,” Ellis added.
  New board member Phil Costello asked how long ago it had been discussed, which Sanders said the district has now had high school first semester exams done before winter break for three straight years now.
  Sanders said the district is in a contract with the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates to use that facility for graduations “the Saturday of Memorial Day forever,” and the last day of class needs to come before then as graduates tend to not return to school after receiving their diplomas.
  “That does not count for attendance, and that was actually hurting us financially,” Sanders said.
  However, this draft has the final day on May 19, more than a week before the graduation date.
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, said she thought “the high school teachers liked” the earlier start to allow more time with graduating seniors at the end of the year, and board member Veronica Noland confirmed that this calendar aligns with the current calendars. Sanders said it does being the third Monday of August being the start.
  Although the district changed the last three calendars after the negative feedback, it still started earlier than what had previously been the case. After the last proposal, as a member of the public at the time, Ward told the previous board that it was “one of the oldest techniques in negotiation. When I was a child, we didn’t start school until after Labor Day.”
  Board member Sue Kerr said she’d like to see feedback from teachers as the draft has three scheduled institute days in a row after the school year ends. There are 10 days selected as institute or professional development days.
  This year the full week of Thanksgiving was off, but the draft would return to classes being held on the Monday and Tuesday of that week. One of the institute days is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8, the day of the next presidential election.
  Meidel said there have been safety concerns raised and “where it hasn’t been too much of an issue… we’ve had some parent phone calls” over concerns from “advertising” for candidates. “So that was an issue that came up.”
  Although the board packet says a vote is expected at the upcoming Monday, Dec. 14 meeting, Sanders said it was “just a draft” and expected a vote in January. There are 178 instructional days on the calendar, which aligns with the current calendar.



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