District 65 administrators and most board members continued to insist Tuesday that more in-service training for teachers requires more inconvenience for families.

Despite complaints from parents that raising the number of early dismissal days creates hardships for working parents, Superintendent Hardy Murphy argued that achieving the board’s goals for improving educational practices requires increasing the number of days kids are sent home early from school from five this year to seven or possibly nine next year.

Murphy and most board members seemed to reject — at least for next year — alternatives such as clustering teacher training into additional full-day sessions, providing more training online or after the regular school day, or even holding the in-service sessions on the day before holiday breaks.

They also rejected as unworkable under the current teacher union contract ideas of extending the school year beyond the minimum now required by state law.

One parent said each early dismissal day amounts to an added tax on working parents who would have to skip work or hire child care service for the extra hours.

If you figure 26 children for 90 minutes at just $10 an hour, that’s nearly a $400 cost to provide the teacher an hour-and-a-half of training, the parent said.

Some board members did support the parents’ concerns. Bonnie Lockhart said, “I just feel like we’re not looking at the big picture and what works best for all involved.”

But Andrew Pigozzi said that while he’d received over 100 e-mails from parents on the subject, “If our goal is higher achievement, if we want to close the gap, then we have to pay the price somewhere.” The way to get better results, he said, is with additional training.

Some board members voiced objection to nine early dismissal days, but it appeared a majority would accept seven. The superintendent, who initially proposed seven and raised the proposal to nine for Tuesday’s meeting, said he would provide another revised schedule for discussion at an upcoming board session.

Parents in the audience were disappointed with the board response.

Gretchen Livingston of 2320 Forestview Road predicted that as more parents hear about the calendar plan the board “will get a real backlash.”

She said that while professional development may improve student performance, time spent is class is also critical to success — and the board is headed in the wrong direction on that.

Rhonda Present of 546 Michigan Ave. said the school district is insensitive to the needs of working families and the impact of the calendar on the economic situation of families and parents’ ablity to care for their children.

But she praised suggestions some board members raised for possible future extensions of the school year or school day, which are expected to be part of the discussion at the board’s long range planning meeting on Feb. 23.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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4 Comments

  1. Time for a school calendar that works for families
    I was so glad to see this excellent summary of the calendar discussion at last night’s School Board meeting. As someone who has been involved for three years now in advocating for a school schedule that makes more sense for the needs of today’s families, I’m encouraged by the dialogue that is finally taking place in our community on this important issue. However, I’m disappointed that we can’t seem to find a way to provide high quality training for teachers without further compromising our children’s education and causing hardship for working parents who depend upon a consistent school schedule. With more stringent requirements for academic achievement coming down the pike through “No Child Left Behind,” this seems like the wrong time to add even more early dismissals to the calendar. Hopefully, last night’s conversation will give D65 Board members and administrators pause to reflect a bit more on their latest proposal and incorporate some of the excellent suggestions that parents have brought to the table on ways to make it better.

    The following is text of the formal statement I offered at the 2-19-08 Board meeting:

    My name is Rhonda Present of 546 Michigan Avenue in Evanston and I’m a mom of a 4th grade student at King Lab. For the past three years I have also served as a parent representative on the District Calendar Committee. I am speaking tonight in this capacity and as the Founder & Director of ParentsWork, a nonprofit Illinois parents’ organization dedicated to creating more family-friendly communities, schools and workplaces. A group of our Evanston members are also here this evening and several will be sharing their individual perspectives on the proposed 2008-2009 school calendar.

    At the Working Board meeting earlier this month, the administration brought forth a calendar plan that called for seven early dismissal days in addition to several full- and half-day training sessions for teachers. Both parents and School Board members expressed concerns about the proposed increase in early dismissals – from three to five to seven in just a four-year period. The administration was asked to “go back to the drawing board” and explore ways to provide professional development without taking more instructional time away from students.

    With nearly two weeks to deliberate, the administration waited until the very last moment, 3:45 on the Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend, to unveil this latest proposal to members of the Calendar Committee. Unlike the Board who has at least 48 hours prior to its meetings to review materials on issues it is scheduled to discuss, we were not given that opportunity.

    With just a few days notice, we were summoned to an emergency committee meeting and presented with this latest proposal. While the move to streamline the parent-teacher conference schedule provides a glimmer of hope that we can actually come up with a better calendar plan, the increase to nine early dismissals blatantly disregards (or shall I say, dismisses) the needs and concerns of families in our community. I should note, that many of those who have been calling for calendar changes, are the same parents who find time in their busy schedules to volunteer in our classrooms, with our PTAs, and as members of numerous D65 committees dedicated to strengthening our schools. It seems that our opinion should count for something.

    In justifying their latest plan, the administration has noted that other school districts, such as Oak Park and Park Ridge, are using early dismissals. What they have failed to mention is that these districts have longer school days and more days of school than we do. And, they have not shared the fact that there are other districts that do not utilize the early release option at all. Shouldn’t we also be looking at how they deliver their professional education and making whatever benchmarking data we have available to Board members and concerned citizens so that we can be having a fully informed conversation?

    Some have said that it is not the job of schools to worry about the impact of the calendar on working parents’ schedules or childcare arrangements. But as it turns out, that precedent was set long ago when the 9-month school schedule we have in America was designed to accommodate the needs of agrarian families whose livelihood depended on having the children home over the summer to work on the farm. Clearly, times have changed, and I don’t think it’s pie in the sky to suggest that we can create a school calendar that makes more sense for 21st century families. And, with a teacher contract negotiation and a Board strategic planning process getting underway, it seems to me that we have a unique window of opportunity here in Evanston to put such a system into place.

    The choice is ours. We can be known as the community that provides the bare minimum to be in compliance with state law or the one with a first class public school system that parents look to as a first choice in educating their children. I urge you to reject this calendar plan and ask the administration to come up with a proposal that not only ensures the best possible education for our children but is one that all of the stakeholders of our school district can support.

    1. District 65 Calender over due for a change
      Rhonda, I am encouraged to see this blog post concerning the District 65-school calendar. I am the mom that in 1999 discovered that the approved school calendar that year was short a full required day of school. That was 9 years ago and I have to say that I am disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing at all seems to have changed in all of that time.

      I actually discovered it quite by accident. I had spent that year in very disheartening research discovering that the teacher’s union controls absolutely every hour of the calendar. Even (and more importantly!) at the State level in the State School Code. Did you know for example that the State School Code allows that the last day of school can count for a full day if it is at least one hour in length? So, we run all of the busses, etc. for the requisite one hour which counts as a “day” of the precious few days that our children are credited as having. What a blatant sham! Another important calendar fact, and it seems so obvious, is that the kids deserve uninterrupted expanses of school time. The last time I was involved in this issue (and it doesn’t sound like it has changed), there was never more than a 2 week period the entire school year without time off for the students! When I was young, my parents attended parent-teacher conferences at night – and we kids had a full day of school. Students missing school due to parent conferences is crazy. How did this get so far out of whack? Studies have demonstrated that this continued disruption in the class routine is not good for learning. At the Board level, the teacher’s (union) representatives talk altruistically about their deep concern for the education of “the children” – but don’t you touch one day of their 3 months of vacation time – 3 MONTHS of vacation time. The teachers training should take place then. Period. But it is insult to injury to have parents who are requesting merely a workable schedule seeing their requests somehow being twisted into a “day care problem”. What nerve!

      I understand the need for training. My concern with is that training should never be done at the sacrifice of quality, consecutive school time. If that is the case, you are not gaining anything for the students.

      In the past several months, much of the attention of our community (certainly represented on this blog anyway) has been dedicated the City of Evanston’ s budget woes. Proposed tax increases are of course a big reason to become engaged. But what I still find amazing after all of these years is that with 60+% of our tax bill going to the school districts, (the City of Evanston’s share is about 20% of your entire tax bill) there is relatively little discussion or concern about how well they are serving our communities needs – both the children’s and – the parents!

      I wholeheartedly support your efforts. I hope that in the 9 years that have past since I was making the same appeal to the Board, now may just be the right time for this to finally change. It appears that some of the current Board members are taking notice of the negative effects of so much disruption for the children and the disruption for families too.

  2. 65 calendar issue
    Board member Bonnie Lockhart’s remark gets to the point: “I just feel like we’re not looking at the big picture and what works best for all involved.”

    Rhonda Present’s remark suggests the administration is misleading parents:

    “The administration has noted that other school districts, such as Oak Park and Park Ridge, are using early dismissals. What they have failed to mention is that these districts have longer school days and more days of school than we do. And, they have not shared the fact that there are other districts that do not utilize the early release option at all.”

  3. school calendar
    This song and dance around the school calendar issue has been going on a long time. The teacher’s unions control the calendar. The “calendar committee” is composed of teachers and administrators, no parents. The calendar committee has and always will promote what is in the best interests of teachers, not parents. Our children are being shortchanged, and not just because of issues relating to the school calendar. Here’s another issue that should be dealt with: per contract, teachers get 12, that’s right 12 sick days per year. Most teachers use at least 10 of their days each year, usually on Fridays or Mondays in the spring. D65 spends around $750,000/year on substitute teachers. Everybody knows what happens to the quality of instruction when a sub is in the classroom. Here’s the reality for our children: With half days, early dismissal days, class parties, standardized testing, no real instruction and learning taking place during the last week of school, and most teachers using 10 sick days in a 176 day work year, the school calendar shrinks even further from 176 per year to around 150 days of instruction. Pathetic.

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