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U46 proposed calendar gets mixed reaction

Updated: March 7, 2013 6:37AM

ELGIN — School District U46 got some mixed reaction this week to proposed major changes in the school calendar, including:

It’s better for high school students to take finals before a two-week break in the winter.

It’s worse for elementary school students to be in classes through long, hot days in summer.

Why not do away with the Columbus Day holiday instead?

Those opinions were given to the school board as the district proposed its 2013-14 school calendar.

The changes include pushing the start of classes to mid-August and the end of the first semester, before students dismiss for winter recess. They also would keep students in the state’s second-largest school district in class on Veterans Day, shorten Thanksgiving break from a week to three days, and move parent-teacher conferences earlier in the year.

“I know you’re not going to please everybody. You never will,” said Angela Kuhns of Carol Stream, a mom of four children in the district.

“But only considering one group to improve test scores — it really seems you’re not looking at the whole picture.”

Kuhns was one of two parents who spoke against the earlier start — even suggesting a later start, after Labor Day — because of its impact on elementary school students.

It’s hard to put those students to bed so they’re well-rested for school when it’s still light outside in late summer, Kuhns said. And it gets warm in those overcrowded classrooms. One of her children was in a classroom of 33 students that reached temperatures up to 85 degrees, she said.

Meantime, Cesar Dimas of Elgin, a junior at Larkin High School, and Jason Reissig of Elgin, a math teacher at the school, said the early start would make the most sense for high school students.

“What happens most often is as winter break continues and we go out, have fun, all those things, we tend to forget those things, and when it comes time for finals, we have to crunch a lot more, we have to study a lot more,” Dimas said.

School board candidate Veronica Noland also expressed support for the early start, although she stressed the district needs to “include parents as stakeholders in the discussion.”

Holiday dispute

And two community members presented their own suggestion: doing away with Columbus Day, a controversial holiday, instead of Veterans Day.

Richard Francke of Bartlett remembered the service of his father and older brother in World War II and questioned, “Why would we honor Columbus? He did nothing for America. In fact, he never even discovered it.”

“When their country called, (veterans) answered. Now you are being called. How will you answer?”

The proposed 2013-14 school calendar was developed by the U46 Staff Development Committee based on recommendations from teachers, according to Andrea Erickson, U46 coordinator of Teacher Effectiveness Initiatives.

It had been announced last week at the school board’s previous meeting, and the board decided then to delay a vote on the calendar to its Feb. 18 meeting.

That’s because there usually are two weeks between meetings, and the last two came back-to-back because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday — and because, board member Amy Kerber said at the time, these would be “significant” changes for the public to absorb.

At the time, several area veterans spoke in favor of using Veterans Day to educate students about the work of the military, rather than taking the day off. Two teachers from Sunnydale Elementary School in Streamwood said they hadn’t seen the proposed calendar before it was brought to the board and already had made summer plans.

School representatives on the Staff Development Committee bring the calendar back to their buildings to review, U46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders said. It is sent to the principals of those buildings that do not send a representative, he said.

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