District 73 plans to extend instructional day to 7 hours in 2023-24

A new schedule with updated start and end times, longer hours and more instructional days for students will debut next year in Vernon Hills-based Hawthorn Elementary District 73.

Some details of the complicated undertaking for the K-8 district still are to be addressed. But the bulk of the logistics have been done and the framework put in place to extend the school day to 7 hours for all students starting in the 2023-24 school year.

The changes also are intended to increase professional development time for staff. Together, the moves are intended to "optimize learning opportunities for all students and to align with neighboring school districts," Superintendent Pete Hannigan said.

"While we acknowledge that change can be difficult, the board believes this is worthwhile in order to optimize outcomes for all students across the district," said board President Robin Cleek.

Currently, the elementary instructional day is 6 hours and 15 minutes and 6 hours and 30 minutes for middle school students. The transition to a longer day will create roughly 11 more days of instruction for elementary students and seven more days for middle schoolers.

Under the plan, start times won't begin before 7:15 a.m. and/or end later than 4 p.m. Also, students will be released 45 minutes early every Wednesday and licensed staff will stay for an hour and 15 minutes after dismissal for professional development.

That schedule will replace six early release days throughout the year with a "more consistent and predictable" calendar for families, a committee of administrators and union members established in July determined.

As part of its strategic planning process, District 73 set ambitious goals to become a "high-performing, lighthouse district," in Illinois, said Michael McFarlin, communications coordinator.

"We believe this increased instructional time will directly impact our students. Our board, community, parents and students have high expectations for their schools, and our charge is to exceed those expectations every day," he added.

The development of a 7-hour student instructional day was a collaborative process that began in April 2020, when the board and Hawthorn Education Association reached a five-year contract deal.

Lengthening the school day was among priorities for the board during the bargaining process and it was agreed that would start with the 2023-24 school year, according to the district.

The 7-hour day schedule was approved last week and the district has been answering questions from parents and staff.

A common question is why students need more instructional time.

According to the response, District 73 is in the bottom quarter among 16 neighboring districts for elementary and middle school instructional hours.

District 73 values physical education and fine arts, the response reads, and provides students with physical education five days a week as well as two days a week each of art and music.

"Lengthening our instructional day aligns Hawthorn with other high-performing school districts by providing more time for students learning in the core subject areas," according to the response.

Start and end times for students will be staggered to alleviate traffic congestion on Hawthorn Parkway and Aspen Drive. Middle school students will continue to start earlier than elementary students due to bus service constraints and the location of buildings on either side of busy Route 60.

Hawthorn District 73, teachers reach 5-year pact

A new schedule with updated start and end times, longer hours and more instructional days for students will debut next year in Vernon Hills-based Hawthorn Elementary District 73. Daily Herald file photo
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