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updated: 4/27/2014 8:01 AM

Elk Grove Dist. 59 pitches shorter day at Ridge, longer day at 12 schools

Elk Grove parents not pleased by Ridge's loss of class time

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  • Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 officials are proposing to cut the school day by 70 minutes at the Ridge Family Center for Learning, while increasing class times by a half-hour at 12 other schools.

       Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 officials are proposing to cut the school day by 70 minutes at the Ridge Family Center for Learning, while increasing class times by a half-hour at 12 other schools.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer, 2002

 
 

The school day would be a half-hour longer next fall at 12 schools in Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59, but parents at one school not on that list are upset their kids' class time could be cut by as much as 70 minutes a day.

Under changes proposed by District 59 officials, students at the Ridge Family Center for Learning, District 59's K-5 "school of choice," would lose the class time as part of a restructuring that will give all elementary schools the same school day.

On Monday, the school board is expect to discuss the proposed school day schedule and vote on the teacher contract, which would run through 2019.

Ridge, a popular choice among children and parents, conducts an annual lottery to determine which students will be enrolled. Currently, Ridge students have a longer day than other K-5 students. They attend class for eight hours four days a week, and 6.5 hours on Wednesdays, to account for teacher professional development meetings.

A draft schedule of the 2014-15 school year shows that while students at Ridge will still begin their days at 8 a.m., they will be dismissed at 2:50 p.m. four days a week and at 1:50 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Meanwhile, nine other elementary schools and three junior high schools will add 30 minutes to their school day, while John Jay Elementary -- which already had a longer day than other elementary schools -- will stay the same.

Ridge's school year will stay the same. The school runs on a "balanced calendar" -- in some districts called a "year-round" calendar -- in which students attend the same number of school days as other schools, but the school days are spread out through the entire calendar year.

The changes were proposed by school district officials during negotiations over a proposed five-year teachers contract extension. While the contract language states only that teachers must fulfill their "professional responsibilities," school district officials have proposed that all elementary schools have 6 hour, 50 minute days, and junior high schools have 7 hour, 5 minute days.

As part of the revised contract, stipends Ridge teachers had been getting for their longer hours will be canceled.

Superintendent Art Fessler said decreasing the length of the school day at Ridge, while increasing the amount of time at other schools, is part of an overall "One District" plan that also aims to standardize curriculum and assessments at all district schools.

"I feel like as superintendent of schools I have a responsibility to the entire school district to provide equity whenever possible to all students and families," said Fessler, who became superintendent last July.

"Our board will have to decide based on what they think is the right thing to do."

To maintain Ridge's schedule, Fessler said it would cost an extra $280,000 to add seven more bus routes and $70,000 in teacher stipends.

Ruth Gloede, the district's assistant superintendent for business services, said Ridge has been on an eight-hour schedule since it opened in the early 2000s in an effort to reduce transportation costs.

"(We) needed to build start and dismissal times that would allow buses to do one run (at another school), then come back and do Ridge," Gloede said. "Most people have kind of forgotten that. By trying to be economically efficient, the kids ended up with a longer school day."

The proposed changes aren't sitting well with some Ridge parents, who plan to submit a petition opposing the plan to the school board Monday night.

Elizabeth Galliano, who has children in first and fourth grade at Ridge, said she's pleased with the school's high-quality academic programs and isn't so happy that her kids won't be in the classroom as long as they are now.

"As far as a goal of increasing classroom and instructional times at other schools, I think that's great," Galliano said. "I don't think as a result of that you should then take away from instructional time at our school to fund additional time at other schools."

Fessler says District 59 will still provide Ridge students a good education, despite reduced class time.

Negotiations between the school district and the District 59 Education Association took place over four meetings in March and April. Fessler said common instructional times was a "shared interest" of both sides.

The proposed contract includes a new two-tier salary schedule -- one for current staff and another for new hires. Current teachers are set to receive salary increases averaging 1.25 percent over the course of five years. New hires would receive 1 percent increases every year.

Eydie Cohen, the union's president, said the contract also means increased professional development and collaboration time for teachers. There will also be more stipends available for teachers to coach sports or coordinate clubs.

"From the very beginning the superintendent and the board of education said they wanted 'One District' -- not a district of schools, but one district, and we understood that to mean that we would have to make some changes because for a very long time, the 14 schools have not always operated the same," Cohen said.

"This was about fairness and equity for the students, for the staff and for the community."

The contract was ratified on April 17 with 85 percent of the 530-member union voting yes. Cohen said Ridge staff voted "overwhelmingly" to accept the contract.

The school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in the cafeteria of Grove Junior High School, 777 Elk Grove Blvd. in Elk Grove Village.

District 59 includes portions of Elk Grove Village, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines and Mount Prospect.

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