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updated: 9/25/2012 6:23 PM

U-46 panel's ideas could turn school day 'on its head'

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Leaders in Elgin Area School District U-46 know there are some lofty goals and ideas in the first report of the Transformation Task Force, but teachers, administrators and board members are confident the outcome will turn education in the state's second largest district on its head.

Members of the task force presented an interim report to the board of education Monday to give an update on where discussions stand on designing the optimal school day for students, teachers and the community. Ideas include introducing a year-round calendar, creating learning communities that team students with a consistent group of teachers at the middle school level, providing equity in subject matter that will prepare students for the global society and pushing back high school start times from 7:40 to 8:30 a.m.

Members stressed that final decisions or recommendations have not yet been made.

"I think this task force can really be a pivotal point where things totally turn around," board member Jennifer Shroder said.

The Transformation Task Force is the result of the drawn out negotiations between the Elgin Teachers Association -- the teachers union representing 2,200 teachers -- and the board of education that ended in the spring. While teacher collaboration time was agreed upon in the resulting 2011-2014 teachers contract, a clause called for the formation of a task force to address outstanding issues regarding the configuration and length of the school day for both students and teachers. Among the issues were elementary planning time, student contact time, required professional duties for teachers, and adult collaborative time.

Members include teaching staff, administrators and community representatives in subcommittees for early childhood and elementary education, middle schools, high schools and nontraditional classrooms.

"The interim report is a taste of all of the things that have risen to the top in conversations," Elgin Teachers Association President Kathryn Castle said Tuesday.

Castle said a recurring theme of the discussions is flexibility.

"There needs to be flexibility in the day for all levels," Castle said. "We are finding that we need to make learning more specific to each student. There has to be a way to meet the special needs of kids within the structure ... Our current structure fits most kids most of the time, but we recognize that a lot of other things could be happening to benefit all kids, including kids who are already benefiting under the current structure."

Susan Smith, principal at Nature Ridge Elementary School in Bartlett, called the work exciting.

"For the first time ever I feel like we are involved in something that can truly impact amazing change. True transformation is possible," Smith said. "We are trying to change things completely and not just add on. We often add on and change a little bit, but this time we are looking at the entire picture from early childhood through high school."

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