District 300 chief wants to get creative with school schedules
Year-round classes and a longer elementary school day are among the options Community Unit District 300 leaders will be exploring.
Officials are in the early stages of reviewing whether adding an hour to the elementary school day or lengthening the school year would allow teachers the flexibility to provide student enrichment or remediation.
Superintendent Fred Heid said elementary school teachers don't have enough time to provide differentiated instruction tailored to students' individual needs. He also noted the elementary school day is an hour shorter than that of middle and high schools.
The Algonquin-based district serves nearly 21,000 students in 15 communities, including Carpentersville, East and West Dundee, Gilberts, Pingree Grove and Sleepy Hollow.
"High school kids can take night school and summer school, but we don't offer that option at elementary," Heid said. "The focus would be on adding time to enrich the current experience for students, but also it would provide dedicated planning time for teachers to collaborate. We have addressed every major resource issue -- tech, curriculum and even staffing -- and the only remaining barrier is time."
Heid stressed there have been no formal discussions with the school board for schedule changes and that these potential ideas for more creative scheduling will be fully vetted.
Among the options Heid would like to consider is having high schools open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., giving juniors and seniors a list of required core courses and a course guide so they have the flexibility to select classes and decide what times to attend, much like a college setting.
"There isn't a district in the nation that does that," said Heid, adding there are some logistical and staffing issues that would have to be addressed.
District 300 already offers a late-start schedule for middle and high schools, and early release for elementary grades on 10 Fridays during the school year to accommodate teacher training -- the school day is shortened by one hour on those days. Starting next school year, all district schools will switch to an early-release model for those 10 days.
Heid says providing teachers 10 hours of training yearly is not enough.
"Teachers really need and deserve more training, but we also don't want to disrupt student learning time," he said.
Officials have received some pushback from parents who want teacher training to be done after school hours. Adding an extra day to the school calender for professional development would cost the district roughly $475,000, so that would not be the preferred option, Heid said.
District officials could also consider using time between breaks to provide intensive intervention for students, or teacher training. These and other ideas will be discussed as part of the district's new Community Leadership Academy for parents in April and also with teachers and community members.
"The dialogue is important," said Heid, adding, "Even if this dies on the vine, I think we need to confront, in a realistic way, are the barriers to change real or perceived. There's only so much money available. ... We need to come to terms with what are our priorities, what do we value."