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District U-46 releases 2019-20 calendar draft

By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 has released a draft calendar for the 2019-2020 school year which aligns with recent calendars.
  The Board of Education discussed the draft at its Monday, Feb. 4 meeting, and the draft was released publicly the following day.
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said it’s “very draft, this is not finalized,” and it’s unclear when an official calendar proposal and vote will take place. Sanders said it aligns with neighboring districts.
  The first day of classes is scheduled for Aug. 14, a week later on Aug. 21 for pre-school, which would be the seventh straight year for an earlier start date despite public opposition to early start dates through three surveys taken by U-46. The district did not do a survey this year.
  The first semester would end before Christmas break, high school graduation on May 23 and the last day of classes if no emergency days are used on May 27. There are 176 instructional days scheduled (up from 173 this year) and 184 teacher attendance days.
  Thanksgiving break is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 27 while Nov. 25 and 26 are scheduled for early release as school improvement (SIP) days. Christmas break would start on Dec. 20 with a return to school on Jan. 7, and there are no classes March 23 to 27 for spring break.
  There are 11 days scheduled as early release for SIP days, including the final two days on May 26 and 27 after a day off on Memorial Day, May 25. The early release days are up in the air as the district waits for a decision on pending legislation from the state.
  The calendar has been delayed due to state legislation according to Sanders who said the so-called “evidence based” funding model “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.”
  Sanders said the early release days “would provide more opportunities for teachers to collaborate in their buildings and also to schedule opportunities for parents to meet with teachers,” but the state is currently looking at eliminating that flexibility.
  Melanie Meidel, assistant superintendent for special projects, said “the main piece is the early release and the definition of instructional time” because while the state “started to give us flexibility, there’s a chance that that will change. So all of the districts are very cautious in the design of their calendars.”
  “This is just a draft for the board’s consideration at this point that we will put out publicly and continue to have discussions with the Elgin Teacher’s Association, and also make sure parents are familiar with it and can give feedback as well,” Sanders said.
  Meidel said a change in this calendar is that no specific date is scheduled for parent/teacher conferences as it plans to give flexibility to schools. The district would give guidelines on “how many hours need to be dedicated to that instead of designating one day.”
  Ward asked how the early release days would look. Meidel said it was just a “concept” right now and Sanders said it “may go away very shortly” through state legislation.
  Meidel did say that there are discussions and nothing is set in stone and ideas are being discussed, but “it could be a combination of online learning for some groups and they’re not in session, in seats at the school. It could potentially be a layer of elementary is at one time, middle school would be at another, high school is released at another or is not in attendance and it can flip on another day.”
  Ward said: “As you know, I’ve always been an advocate for a later start date because I think Aug. 14 is way early to start school. Would this flexibility allow us to both start later and finish the semester before winter break, or does that not help us at all?”
  Meidel said it would not allow for that.
  The board’s majority and the administration has in recent years has not responded to survey results showing a public desire for a later start date partly for wanting the first semester to end before Christmas break to allow high school students to take finals before the break.
  The district has never done a survey regarding when the public would like the first semester to end and Sanders has said 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.”
  Sanders said if the state still allows for flexibility it could open up more chances for e-learning which could be utilized on snow days and other emergency days.
  Ward said that West Chicago’s school district utilized e-learning during the recent polar vortex that shut down schools for a couple days recently, and “it would be nice if we had the flexibility to utilize that in some way.”
  Board member Sue Kerr asked about House Bill 247, sponsored by Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates), which is the legislation that would strip the flexibility. Sanders said “it’ll likely pass.”
  If the flexibility remains, Kerr said some of the scheduled early release days like the first two days of Thanksgiving week and the two days after Memorial Day may not be good days to schedule them.
  “I can just see parents just saying ‘well, you know I’m just taking the kids out all together. We’re going to go see aunt Mary or something,’” Kerr said.
  Board member Melissa Owens said regarding Memorial Day there’s a four-day weekend with the Friday prior a day off, and it’s “a really rough schedule.”
  Meidel said it’s a “draft, draft, draft” and just a “concept,” and when and how many of those days are scheduled is still to be determined.



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