U46 teachers prepare for earlier start, other changes to calendar
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org August 16, 2013 3:56PM
First-grade teacher Jami Windau readies her classroom at Otter Creek Elementary School in Elgin for the first day of school Monday in Elgin School District U46. | Emily McFarlan Miller/Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 19, 2013 9:36AM
ELGIN — Late Friday morning, Jami Windau was taping up the last of the brightly-colored “bursts” marking off each class’ lockers in the primary hallway at Otter Creek Elementary School.
The teacher already had looked over her incoming students’ spring assessments to know where they are at academically, she said. Her 16-year-old also had showed her how to charge the new laptop computer every teacher in Elgin School District U46 received over the summer.
And Windau assured two colleagues who popped their heads into her first-grade classroom that she’d opened every planner she’d received to make sure it was the one meant for her students’ grade level.
“They all have cute little pictures,” she said.
All that was left to do was wait for the 27 students on her class list to arrive Monday on the first day of school in U46.
That’s a half-week earlier than last school year in the second-largest school district in Illinois, one of several changes to the school calendar taking effect in 2013-14. Those revisions mean the school year starts and ends earlier than in the past, but not as early as the district initially had proposed.
Last year, classes started on Wednesday, Aug. 22.
“There’s been less time to get ready,” Windau said. “I’ve heard lots of people say, ‘Oh, we lost a week.’ ‘We lost a week of prep,’ or, ‘We lost a week of cleaning time.’”
An even-earlier start could come next school year, a discussion district officials said the U46 Board of Education likely will have this fall, giving staff, students and parents time to plan for the change.
But, for now, Windau said, “We’re just trying to be more ready for them — better prepared for them — to make those transitions easier.”
As a first-grade teacher, she’s mostly concerned about students jumping from a half-day kindergarten program straight into a full week of classes, rather than into a three-day week to bring them up to speed, she said. It’s not unusual for a 6-year-old to ask at 9 a.m. if it’s time to go home yet, she said.
“I have to admit, I’m very nervous about this. I’m very nervous about the first week for the little ones,” she said.
From a curriculum perspective, that full week is a good thing: It allows students to start into material on the first week, according to the teacher. It’s also a good thing to establish routine — what happens on which days of the week, she said.
She’s talked with other first-grade teachers in the building at 2701 Hopps Road, she said, and they plan to spend a lot of time that first week walking outside to talk about what happens at recess and to the lunchroom to talk about what happens at lunch, just getting a building tour and the opportunity to move around a little bit.
Windau hasn’t heard much about the change in calendar from parents, she said Friday morning. But that could come later at the welcome-back picnic planned that night, she admitted.
Otter Creek Principal Jeff Bragg put out a phone call through the school’s Rapid Communication System Thursday to remind families about the earlier start, she said. The parent-teacher organization also has put the word out in its Facebook group, she said.
District officials originally had presented a calendar to the school board that would have started on the same day as next-door neighbor Community Unit School District 300: Wednesday, Aug. 14. The school year then would have ended Tuesday, May 27, 2014.
Opinions expressed during a 30-minute public comment session at a February school board meeting were mixed: Parents from one elementary school spoke against the earlier start because of the impact of long days and hot temperatures on their children. A student and teacher from one high school spoke in favor of taking finals before winter break.
Several teachers noted by the time the calendar came to the school board in late January, they already had made conflicting summer plans.
That calendar was revised and approved by the school board after U46 Superintendent Jose Torres invited feedback from parents, students, teachers and community members.
Other changes to the 2013-14 school year include class on Veterans Day, like surrounding school districts 301 and 300. Also, the first semester now will end before winter break, and Thanksgiving break will be three days instead of five days.