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U46 Board responds to calendar arguments; will keep school year start later

Updated: March 27, 2014 6:29AM

ELGIN — The School District U46 calendar for the next two academic years likely will look much like the current one when the calendar is approved March 3, even though district officials would like to pursue a more year-round approach.

Earlier this year, U46 administrators sought feedback from the community on a calendar that proposed a start date for school during the second full week of August — a week earlier than in 2013-14. Tony Sanders, U46 chief of staff, said the goal was to balance the number of days in the first and second semesters and to have the first semester — particularly high school finals — end before winter break.

But the feedback from the online survey on the district website was heavily slanted toward keeping the calendar status quo. Sanders said roughly 90 percent of the 1,688 of people who responded opposed the earlier start.

In response to the survey, the district is proposing starting the school year Aug. 18 in 2014-15 and Aug. 17 in 2015-16.

School board member Jennifer Shroder questioned the validity of the results and whether the district was reacting to a small group of people. Shroder said many parents she knew did not respond because they did not have a problem with the school calendar. District U46 serves more than 40,000 children in preschool through grade 12.

School board members said the biggest arguments they hear are that an early start is bad because of the heat in August and conflicts with vacation and swimming lessons.

Board member Traci O’Neal Ellis said school calendars should be designed to be educationally sound for students.

Swimming lessons “are not sound reasons for changing the school calendar,” she said

School Board member Amy Kerber said weather is so unpredictable, and this year has been the perfect example. At the start of the school year, the incredible heat came in September, after Labor Day.

She added that heat is not a problem because all U46 schools are air conditioned.

Sanders added that when temperatures soar as they did in the fall, the district allows teachers to lower the temperature in their classroom to ensure everyone is properly cooled.

Kerber said she appreciated the push to have the first semester end before winter break. Kerber said her high school student could relax over the holidays, instead of stressing over upcoming exams or finishing up a project that might be due in January had the semester ended later.

Cesar Dimas, student adviser to the school board, echoed Kerber’s comments. He and his classmates greatly preferred ending the first semester before winter break.

Superintendent Jose Torres said the district is slowly moving to a year-round calendar. When that will happens depends on changing people’s mindset and attitudes, he said.

School board member Veronica Noland and Shroder both said they support a year-round calendar.

Shroder said if the goal is to move to a year-round school, more effort needs to get the word out better to parents and the community so they understand the benefits.

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