District 86 student representatives have expressed displeasure for years with having finals during the weeks after winter break, Superintendent Dr. Nick Wahl said, and the district is going to do its part to see if a change is indeed needed and wanted by the greater community.
While administrators draft a traditional school calendar for the 2013-14 year, further discussion and research will take place on an alternative calendar that would feature an Aug. 14 start date and first-semester finals before winter break.
At its Monday night meeting, the District 86 Board of Education was in favor of developing a series of surveys suggested by Wahl that would gauge the opinions of students, staff and faculty, District 86 parents, feeder-district parents, and other District 86 community members on the alternative calendar.
Next year’s 2012-13 calendar has already been finalized. It will be a traditional one that runs from August 22 to June 5.
Wahl said the push for an alternative calendar has been one supported by and student liaisons to the board of education over at least the last seven years, and a number of parents in recent years.
With air conditioning being installed throughout both District 86 high schools this summer, a mid-August start date is now something that can be considered.
“What we have said, quite honestly, is that we can’t even have an informed discussion on this topic until we have instructional spaces air-conditioned,” Wahl said. “We wouldn’t even want to consider moving up more days in August without having climate control.”
District 86 administration has so far held prep-period meetings to get the opinions of the district’s faculty and staff, discussions with seven feeder-district superintendents to see if it’s something they’d be in favor of following, and community forums at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South to get parents’ take.
Wahl said all the dialogue has been preliminary and no changes are planned. Teachers have been open to the idea, he said, but parents have been a tough sell.
“Overwhelmingly, the parents have a concern [about] losing any piece of August vacation,” Wahl said. “That’s understandable and we respect that.”
Board member Richard Skoda said he has received 40 emails from parents who don’t want the change for 2013-14, and only two emails from supporters of the change.
He commended the administration for its exploration of the alternative schedule, but said implementing it the year after next is hasty, considering some families might already be scheduling 2013 summer vacations.
“I think it’s too rushed if we’re trying to make any kind of decision for 2013-14,” Skoda said.
Board member Kay Gallo agreed with Skoda that it might be too late to implement such a major change for 2013-14. She spoke in support of the surveys and of getting more information on what impact a calendar shift would have.
“The more data we have, the better decision we can make,” Gallo said.
Wahl said the school-year calendar is not currently a problem, but the district always wants to make improvements where it can.
“If we can do anything to reduce the stress on our high-school-age children in this time when they are very busy, if we can pause over a topic like this to reflect on how we can reduce that stress and keep our academic integrity high, I think we should and I think we have,” Wahl said.
Though he spoke in favor of further research, Skoda said he wasn’t convinced that moving final exams to before winter break and starting the year earlier in the summer would reduce stress.
“I think there’s as much social-emotional harm from starting early as there is having kids do a few projects over Christmas,” Skoda said.
Wahl said the district will move forward with drafting a traditional 2013-14 schedule while at the same time bringing in third-party survey companies to hear proposals on how to best survey stakeholders on the alternative calendar.