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New U-46 calendar not yet ready for release

By Seth Hancock
  A proposed calendar for the 2019-20 school year in School District U-46 should be presented in February according to officials at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 14.
  In prior years, a proposed calendar would have generally already been presented or approved. This year’s school calendar was approved in December 2017.
  Board member Jeanette Ward raised the issue stating she’s received a “bunch of questions” from parents about the calendar and U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said it would be presented “probably in February.”
  Sanders said the delay was due to changes made by the state from the so-called “evidence based” funding model which he said “eliminated the seat time requirement for students” giving districts more flexibility, but it also “increased the number of days required for student attendance from 174 to 176.”
  The district is trying to determine “what constitutes an instructional day for students” and looking at flexible options according to Sanders.
  There are 173 attendance days and 184 teachers attendance days on this year’s calendar.
  This year the first day of classes was on Aug. 15, the sixth straight year with an earlier start date, despite   public opposition. The earlier start date began under former Superintendent Jose Torres who was seeking yearlong school.
  Ward has consistently opposed the earlier start to school and asked: “Are we going to ask the community what they think about early start dates and so on?”
  “We did not do a survey for this year,” Sanders responded. “We have not done one at this point.”
  Ward said she believed a survey should be taken but later agreed that there was not enough time.
  Board member Melissa Owens said that “at this point, we need to get this calendar done” because “we’re in a planning crunch at this point” which Ward said was a “fair point.”
  Ward said that “next year I would like us to look at a survey, and I’ll bring that up again in ample time next year.”
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, has not sought the board’s input on the calendar discussion on several fronts including whether to survey the public. The district, which did not survey last year, has surveyed the public three times since moving to the earlier start date as the board has largely supported the survey with only one, former board member Traci Ellis, voicing complete opposition from seeking the public input.
  Three years ago, the administration suggested the board approve guidelines on calendar creation which Smith has yet to bring to the board. Board member Phil Costello last year suggested “at least every two years survey the families” which could be a part of the calendar guidelines.
  Every survey has shown a clear desire from the public for a later start date. The first showed 90 percent of nearly 1,700 respondents opposed the earlier date while the next two subsequent surveys, with 935 and 4,715 respondents respectively, showed 73 percent opposition to the earlier start date.
  Board member Veronica Noland said that her “recollection” of the survey was “it comes out equal every time.”
  “The most recent version, it did come out pretty equal but at the same time there was the desire to change the start date which would have resulted in a pushing final exams past winter break,” Sanders said. “And the board’s decision was to stick with the current start time and to have finals before winter break.”
  Smith said the survey showed a desire for a later start date but also having high school finals before winter break “which is not possible.”
  “My recollection is that the majority of the community wanted a later start date,” Ward said. “We had conjecture amongst ourselves as to what they thought about when” finals should occur.
  “But there were answers that answered both,” Smith said.
  The district has never surveyed the public on when finals should occur.
  Board member Sue Kerr said there was a difference from what elementary and secondary parents wanted.
  Regarding finals, Sanders previously stated that the district’s own data showed “it’s not made a significant impact over these past few years academically” whether finals are held before or after winter break, and “[students are] going to have that stress whether it’s before winter break or after winter break.”
  Board member John Devereux said the public can provide informal feedback on the upcoming calendar by contacting the board and administrators.
  Noland said: “I appreciate getting input on this… but I also know that there are so many other factors that we have to evaluate and to determine.”
  “It is a more complex response then simply what the parents prefer,” Noland added. “So knowing that there’s such variety I don’t think we need to do this again. I think it gives parents false hope that their opinion is the only factor that we’re going to weigh.”



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