District 203 hearing outcry over when to start school year
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com September 8, 2012 11:04PM
Ava Goode hugs her mom, Laura, as she gets a goodbye kiss before heading into Mill Street Elementary for her first day of first grade on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:18AM
Tammy Schultz was sort of steamed. The southeast Naperville mom had to do something.
When the District 203 Board of Education last month adopted the calendar for 2013-14, the first day of school was set for Aug. 14. That’s a week sooner than the date shown on a draft calendar presented in May, largely in response to a spring survey that found parents weighing in 5 to 1 in favor of next summer’s break stretching later than the one just past, when D203 students went back to school Aug. 15.
The board had identified its top scheduling objectives as balancing the first and second halves of the school year; administering the fall semester’s final exams before the winter holiday break; and starting the school year sometime later in August. The members realized, however, that the later start was incompatible with early finals.
District spokeswoman Susan Rice said that when Superintendent Dan Bridges asked board members to prioritize the trio of aims, the first two came out on top.
When she learned of the early start, a frustrated Schultz — who has two kids at Prairie Elementary School — started an online petition drive, imploring the board to reconsider.
“I told my husband I’d be glad to get 100 signatures,” she said. “I just wanted to show up (at the next board meeting) and say, ‘Look, 100 people agree with me.’”
By Friday morning, less than five days after the petition went live, the grass-roots campaign had more than 630 names attached to it.
“I didn’t quite expect this to explode the way it did,” Schultz said.
A lot of parents, Schultz said, feel strongly about the board effectively putting an end to summer in the first half of August. Some say the decision appeared to spurn the overwhelming preference found in the spring survey.
Fueling the resentment, she said, are still-fresh memories of last winter’s contentious enrollment capacity committee meetings, where parents shared agitation over proposals that would have shifted hundreds of students to new schools.
“People are angry. The sense I got from a lot of people, and my own personal feeling, is that parents felt very happy that last spring the district was asking for our opinion,” Schultz said. “We felt good, we felt relaxed. It was as though the board was listening to us. ... What I’m hearing from people is like, ‘They’re doing it again.’”
Many of those who signed the petition want the board to avoid rushing an end to summer.
“I have family in Wisconsin and Michigan and they all start after Labor Day. We can never join in on family vacations because we have school or registration,” Mary Beth Baskin wrote.
Mom Crystal Busch pointed out that an abundance of festivals and other regional events take place through Labor Day.
“Talking with many parents in the area, I hear the same preferences ... we’d much rather end school later in June for the chance to have the month of August,” she wrote.
For Kandice Henning, it’s about the weather.
“It feels very wrong to go back to school mid August. It is still summer,” the Naperville resident posted. “The weather is better in August than May/June!”
Rice said the later-starting draft calendar had gone over well among district families.
“People were very positive,” she said, adding that some families wanted the opening day pushed back even farther. “They felt the Aug. 21 start date was a good compromise.”
But when board members looked harder at the proposal, Rice said, they couldn’t help but notice the nine-day difference between the lengths of the two semesters next year.
There are additional factors that concern parents and educators, she said. Some parents disliked having to send their kids to school on a Monday for the last day of the year. Respondents — who included more than 2,000 parents, nearly 1,100 district employees and 430 high school students — also said students struggle when school starts on a Monday and they abruptly have five straight days in the classroom. Signs were pointing the board back to square one.
“Inch by inch, step by step, we wound up with a calendar that very much mirrored the exact same calendar that we’re following this year,” Rice said.
Aside from conference days and spring break being moved a week later, the dates for next year are just one day removed from those shown for 2012-13.
The calendar might not be a done deal.
Schultz said she had a productive conversation with board President Mike Jaensch Thursday evening, during which he said the board members would revisit the calendar at their next meeting Sept. 17.
“I said to him very clearly, ‘What can I do to get this ball rolling again?” Schultz said. “I don’t want this to be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ scenario again.”
Jaensch said the survey’s findings might not have been sufficiently understood by the full board.
“We want to make sure that we have a discussion in public recognizing the data and information that we have. ... I think there were some missteps in the internal communication of the data,” he said Friday morning. “We have to make sure that everybody is comfortable with the decision that they made, and then we need to make sure the community understands the process that led to it.”
Rice said Bridges will contact the board members individually next week to discuss the matter.
“There is no such thing as a perfect calendar,” she said. “But getting community feedback and having an open dialogue is the goal of the superintendent.”