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updated: 9/17/2012 11:28 PM

Dist. 203 admits calendar was a mistake

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Naperville Unit District 203 school board members said Monday they should've better listened to parents, students and school district staff before approving a school calendar that starts earlier than most wanted.

And so, it's likely the current starting date of the 2013-2014 school year -- Aug. 14 -- could be moved to a later date.

It's welcome news to some 900 parents who signed an online petition this month asking the board to reconsider its 5-1 August decision approving the earlier date. Supporters of a later date have argued it would allow families to enjoy the August weather and provide more time for summer commitments.

Board members said Monday they should have taken a closer look at results of a survey taken last spring in which three of their constituent groups indicated a preference for a later start: parents said so, by a 5-1 margin; staff, by a 3-1 margin; and students, by a 2-1 margin.

"We have to get to the point of when we ask for someone's opinion, we have to listen to it," board member Dave Weeks said. "I think we have an obligation to listen to the majority of the public and that means we have to reconsider this."

Superintendent Dan Bridges said board members told him they might have voted differently on a school calendar had they had more detailed information on the survey results.

"Our communication with our parents and community must improve, but also our internal communication," Bridges said. "After talking with board members, communication regarding the findings of the survey could've been better."

Bridges said he'll suggest a revised calendar with a later start date -- likely Aug. 21 -- and bring it for the board's consideration at its Oct. 1 meeting. The changes could be made, he said, by having classes on optional off-days currently in the calendar, such as Columbus Day.

He also suggested the board establish a policy for a general starting time of year -- perhaps the third Wednesday in August -- in an effort to avoid the yearly debates over the school calendar.

In its current form, the calendar sets first semester exams for high schoolers before winter break, and the number of days in each semester are about equal.

Bridges said teachers have told him a five- to seven-day difference between semesters is "manageable."

Board member Suzyn Price said keeping exams before break is "critical" because it gives seniors more time to focus on applying for college.

One community member, meanwhile, chastised board members for paying $12,000 for the survey -- but not knowing what the results said.

Bridges, who was appointed superintendent last month, said he's evaluating the use of surveys and consultants and wants to make sure the district is being fiscally responsible.

Board President Mike Jaensch said he was surprised at the cost of the survey -- thinking it'd be a tenth as much. And while the board may not closely examine every district expenditure, "in my mind, it becomes a culture that these things are not automatic," he said.

"Everybody in the district ... has to consider the cost versus the gain," Jaensch said. "And we screwed up."

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