Elgin Area School District U-46's Transformation Task Force recently presented its final report with recommendations to the school board about allowing increased time during a school day for student intervention and enrichment by teachers, and providing opportunities for more teacher collaboration.
The task force spent 18 months coming up with the recommendations that are advisory and to be used as a framework by the administration for day-to-day decision making and for future strategic planning, U-46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders said.
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The school board could adopt the recommendations at its Jan. 13 meeting. "Some of the recommendations in the report could not be implemented tomorrow, next year or even 10 years out," Sanders said. "Pieces of it are very visionary and there's no way that the board could commit the resources today for something that's 10 years out. There are certainly ramifications for bargaining with some of the recommendations."
The teachers' contract expires Aug. 19, 2014. The task force's recommendations will be factored into negotiations for a new contract, expected to begin in a few months, Sanders said.
Sanders said a lot of research went into the nearly 60-page "visionary document," available at u-46.org, and teachers were kept in the loop through participation on the committee or through their representatives.
Among the recommendations for early childhood education classrooms are having students' outdoor time integrated with science activities; providing art, music and physical education instruction for all students; providing support services during students' work time in the classroom rather than pulling them out of class to receive those services; adding staffing to accommodate small group instruction; and busing all students to and from school.
At the elementary level, officials are proposing slotting daily time for individualized instruction for each student and having a consistent time each day for core curriculum instruction, as well as having specialized instructors such as certified librarians and technology instructors in each school promoting literacy. They also are considering integrating art, music, physical education and technology into all subject areas.
In middle school, students could start the school day earlier and have an extra period for intervention for struggling students or enrichment activities. High school students could be allowed to take a course in place of study halls where appropriate, and spend less time eating lunch.
The task force report calls for creating smaller classroom groups for instruction, which could affect staffing levels at the early childhood level.
Teachers would work in teams at the elementary school level, and middle school students would be assigned to teams with a consistent group of teachers. High school students would be grouped based on academic interests or needs.
Increasing student "contact time" with teachers and providing different structures for a school day is aimed at promoting more effective instruction, and teacher collaboration.
Not all recommendations will come before the school board for review. Some will be made directly to the Elgin Teachers Association and the district administration. Per the agreement reached between the teacher's union and the school board, the task force is required to present recommendations only about student contact time to the school board.
The ETA last Friday sent ballots to its membership asking for a vote on the task force's report. The voting is open through Wednesday.
The district also gathered feedback from parents and community members through surveys. Any future input would be gathered as pieces of the report come forward for implementation, Sanders said.
"Some of these (changes) they are starting to see, but clearly we can't do them all overnight," he said.
Among the recommendations implemented this school year is starting the school calendar earlier so high school students can take final exams before winter break. Another recommendation in the report calls for lengthening the school day four days a week so teachers can have periodic early releases to collaborate, and that was implemented at Laurel Hill Elementary in Hanover Park this year.
Recommendations that would require additional spending, such as increased staffing, will be vetted in public as part of budget discussions for the next school year, he added.
"This isn't stripping down public schools to the ground floor and building back up," Sanders said. "It's reinventing some of the things that we currently have in place in U-46."