By a vote of 4-1 the District 65 School Board on March 17 supported the recommendation of the Superintendent and approved the school calendar for the next academic year. The calendar contains 176 school days, the minimum number required by the State. Only 17 weeks of the school year will be five-day weeks. The instructional time is the same as for this year, said Dr. Hardy Murphy, but two days of professional development have been added by making internal adjustments.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Valorie Moore told the five Board members who attended the meeting the calendar was developed with several considerations in mind. She enumerated the following: the requirements of the Illinois State Board of Education; the budget; alignment with scheduled holidays and breaks at District 202; professional development needs; parent-teacher conferences; balanced trimesters; strategic scheduling of early release days; and in-service days to provide continuous teacher training and curriculum and instruction needs.

Some changes to the final calendar came as a result of parent input, Dr. Moore said, including using Fridays rather than Wednesdays for professional development, minimizing the occurrence of partial school days immediately after a holiday, and allowing more time for teachers to get to know their students before parent conferences. The calendar provides a total of six in-service days, four for elementary schools and four for middle schools (two overlap). Of the six, five are on Fridays and one is on a Tuesday.

During public comment and Board discussion, the debate continued over whether instructional time or professional development would better serve the District’s students.

Rhonda Present, founder of Parents Work, an organization that advocates institutional support of working parents, said, “The calendar represents the core values of the educational system.” She said she understood the need for professional development to ensure the best practices but also felt the need to support families. “There is an 85-percent increase in early-release days – you’re just taking up so much of the academic year.” Not having full days or full weeks of school disrupts the schedules of working parents, she said, often making them miss their own work or patch together ad-hoc childcare options.

Gretchen Livingston said she felt the calendar did “nothing to address parents’ concerns about the erosion of instruction time. … The long-term process is to repair this process and treat parents with respect.”

Jim Young said he felt it was ironic “that we spend so much time organizing our time.”

Jane Grover said, “The real issue is the erosion of our school year. Why is it that District 65 puts teachers in the classroom for the minimum required time? I know it’s more money, but I think it’s worth funding … a couple more school days.”

While most of the Board members said they supported the Superintendent’s proposal, Board member Katie Bailey suggested a compromise. “I appreciated the changes you have made from a month ago,” she told the staff. “But if we have two extra days [from the rescheduling], could we have given more time to academic instruction or professional development? … I believe in consistency for kids.” She said adding the days to instructional time rather than professional development would add two more full weeks of classes and still keep the time for professional development the Board had requested.

Board member Andrew Pigozzi said, “It’s a tough decision. I agree that we need more instruction time. I would love to extend the school day and the school year, but we’re limited at what we can do. … We’re facing a budget crunch, and professional development is something we’re going to have to do – we’re already behind.”

Board President Mary Erickson said, “Early-release days could be compacted like the high school’s B-days [so there would be instruction in each subject, although for a shorter amount of time]. But we have a lot of new methodology, technology, differentiation and enrichment. It is vital we give the staff all the time the administration asks for.” Noting that each day of school costs the District about $224,000, she suggested eliminating school holidays on, for example, Pulaski Day or Columbus Day.

Dr. Murphy said he would like to have an early-release day every week of the school year but said he thought the present discussion was not productive. “I really think it’s wrong to have a debate on two or three hours of instruction,” he said.

Ms. Bailey’s motion failed for the lack of a second, and the calendar was adopted as presented.

School will begin next year on Sept. 2, and the last day of that school year is now set at June 12, 2009.

Discussion About NCLB Resolution

Board members also briefly discussed a resolution presented by the Joint Legislative Task Force of the PTA Council of Districts 65 and 202, which outlined four “improvements” to the federal No Child Left Behind Act “in order to achieve adequate yearly progress (AYP) as required under the NCLB Act.”

The resolution was drafted because the NCLB Act is being considered for reauthorization by Congress during the coming months.

The resolution further urged the Illinois PTA and its constituent members to contact legislators and education authorities at the state and federal level to support the proposed changes while the NCLB Act is being reauthorized.

Dr. Murphy said he had some problems with some aspects of the resolution and said he preferred a similar resolution drafted by the National School Board Association. Ms. Bailey said the 65/202 PTA Council was aware of the NSBA resolution and also had reservations similar to Dr. Murphy’s about the state PTA resolution. These concerns will be compiled and discussed at the April 7 meeting.