The District 181 Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) approved by the District 181 school board in February was controversial. So, now, is one part of the administration’s recommended method for implementing it.
The District 181 calendar for the 2013-14 school year, which is expected to be discussed by the new board of education May 20 and voted on May 28, currently includes eight two-hour late starts meant to provide teachers with more collaboration time than in years past as the district implements the ALP and federally mandated Common Core curriculum.
Vivian Hessel and Kim Lowe, two Walker School moms who live in Clarendon Hills, are against the late starts because of the reduced instruction time they would cause and are rallying like-minded parents with an online petition that has accrued 523 signatures as of 4:45 p.m. Thursday.
“They shouldn’t do it at the expense of the student,” Hessel said of the new teacher collaboration time.
The petition that was posted April 17 on iPetitions includes the following explanation:
Late start days reduce the total number of full student attendance days and take instruction time away from our children.
We are requesting that the Board and the District employ other means to give teachers the collaboration time they require for the Advanced Learning Plan. We can have differentiated learning and teacher collaboration for the new curriculum without late start days and without taking instruction time away from our children.
Lowe was asked if she was shocked that the petition already had more than 500 signatures.
"No not really," she said. "Prior to doing this, there wasn’t a single person I spoke with who was for this late start."
Lowe recently increased the listed goal on the petition from 500 signatures to 700.
District 181 Superintendent Renée Schuster said the district's administration is aware of the petition and is always listening to its parents, but she is more interested in the results of the district's online parent survey on the issue sent out last month.
"The survey was emailed to everyone so I think that will give us a more true measure of the rate of support," Schuster said.
So far, she said, 700 people have completed the survey.
Hessel and Lowe each said they support, at least in theory, the ALP and Common Core and understand the need for additional teacher collaboration.
"I just want the administration to come up with other ways to give that to the teachers," Lowe said.
Both moms said they support collaboration sessions during non-school hours and ALP-related sessions during the existing institute and parent-teacher conference days.
Schuster said even with late starts, there would indeed be teacher collaboration time going on after and during the school day under the proposed calendar.
"Late start is just a piece of the puzzle of how we want to do the collaboration time," Schuster said.
Eight after-school sessions during the year would be district-wide collaboration sessions, while the weekly in-day sessions during gym, art, and other outside-the-classroom subjects would be attended in grade-level clusters at each school.
The sessions on late-start days, Schuster said, would be building-wide.
While instructional time is first and foremost her concern, Hessel said a secondary concern about the late-start plan is its inconvenience for working parents. She and her husband both work and getting their student to school two hours later than normal would place “an undue burden” on them and other working parents.
“It certainly isn’t something that will be easy to handle,” she said. “It will take some planning.”
Schuster said parents would be able to drop students off at the normal time on late start days, and there would be supervised study time for middle school students, and supervised homework, reading, and educational-game time for elementary students.
Buses would be available only to students arriving for the late start times of 9:45 a.m. for middle school and 10:30 a.m. for elementary school.
Hessel said she and Lowe plan on gathering signatures for the next few weeks before providing a full copy to board members by May 22 at the latest. That would be six days before they vote on the final 2013-14 calendar.
The current board expressed less-than-enthusiastic feelings about the late starts during its April 8 Committee of the Whole meeting, and Schuster said she and the administration will have alternatives ready if the new board chooses to not support a calendar with late starts.
"Most critical is that we systematically schedule that time for teacher collaboration," Schuster said. "If we don’t have the late starts, we'll have to find other ways to get that collaboration."
Schuster mentioned a decrease in district-wide collaboration and an increase in the use of substitute teachers during additional in-day collaboration sessions as possible alternatives.
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