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updated: 11/20/2013 12:21 AM

Dist. 220 administration supports semester change

But public hearing on controversial issue slated for next month

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Barrington Unit District 220's administration Tuesday heartily endorsed an advisory committee's recommendation to end the first semester at Barrington High School each year before winter break.

Nevertheless, school board members certainly felt there was still a lot to talk about -- an echo of public reaction to the recommendation.

But a majority ultimately asked a committee to draft a 2014-15 calendar based on most of the recommended changes, which will be looked at Dec. 3, and prepared for a public hearing and possible approval Dec. 17.

While some board members praised the work of the 35-member Input 220 Advisory Council, which made the proposal, others questioned both the process used and the rationale behind its conclusions.

Board member Wendy Farley said that if the proposal had been up for a vote Tuesday, she would have voted against it. She said she still needed to see more evidence that the benefits recommended all the recommended changes.

These included eliminating the Columbus Day holiday and some institute days during the fall to help make the first and second semesters more even in length.

Board member Richard Burkhart said eliminating the Columbus Day holiday would be a disservice to American culture. He also went so far as to criticize the Input 220 Advisory Council's work as being unduly influenced by the district's administration.

Superintendent Tom Leonard strongly denied that, emphasizing that his comments Tuesday and their accompanying 12-page report represented the first time the administration had weighed in on the question of changing the school calendar.

Board President Brian Battle and board member Joe Ruffolo, who had been liaisons to the council, defended the integrity of its work and conclusions.

"The group that came together really did a good job," Battle said. "The process wasn't clean -- it was often messy -- but it was robust. The group did a good job of processing the issues."

Ruffolo, a teacher in another district, said he'd wanted to see the two semesters balanced exactly but ended up satisfied by the compromise the advisory council agreed on.

He added that one of the best arguments for moving to such college-model semesters is that no high school that's made that change has ever changed back.

"That's a pretty impressive record," Ruffolo said.

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