Just 12 days into the start of a new school year, District 65 students will be released early today as part of a plan to give teachers more time for professional development training. It’s the first in what will be a series of shortened school days spread throughout the year (although fewer than the District had hoped for thanks to the advocacy efforts of hundreds of Evanston parents).
While I don’t argue with the importance of making sure our teachers are up to speed on the latest technology and advancements in their field, I find myself pondering several questions that I hope are on the minds of our school leaders. First, I wonder how many teachers will be participating in training this afternoon, what they will be learning, and most importantly, how it will translate into better educational outcomes for my child and yours? I wonder what impact the shortened school day will have on parents in our community who have to ask their employer for time off or scramble to piece together backup child care arrangements? And, when the school bell rings an hour and a half early today, I wonder what elementary and middle school students will be doing on their education break? Will they be supervised and safe or will they be taking the bus home to an empty house or roaming around town on their own because mom or dad couldn’t leave work early?
As for my own daughter, she will be with me at – of all places – a meeting of the D65 Calendar Committee (ironic, huh?). Although D65 administrators promise a more open process than we’ve had in the past – including regular posting of agendas and minutes on the web site and alternating between afternoon and evening meeting times to accommodate the schedules of teachers and parents serving on the committee – creating a more family-friendly school calendar will likely continue to be an uphill battle. The reason is that we either need a longer school year or school day to really be able to carve out meaningful windows for teacher training without compromising the time our children have in school and intensifying the work/family juggling game for their parents. Given the current union negotiation stalemate, it’s not looking too promising. But, I would argue we have to stay the course and commit ourselves to this goal if we want a top notch public education system that is responsive to the needs of the 21st century family and economy.
Evanston children already have fewer full days of school than their counterparts in neighboring districts and I, for one, think they deserve better.