District 300 school board candidates discuss merits of creative scheduling
Six school board candidates vying to represent Community Unit District 300 say they are open to considering creative scheduling -- an idea floated by the district's top educator.
Incumbents Kathleen Burley and Anne Miller, both of Algonquin, face challengers Nicole Beyer of Algonquin, Leslie LaMarca of Pingree Grove, Mary McNicholas of West Dundee, and David Scarpino of Hampshire running for three 4-year term seats April 4.
Leaders at the Algonquin-based school district, which serves nearly 21,000 students in 15 communities, will be exploring a variety of scheduling options, including year-round classes, and adding an hour to the elementary school day or lengthening the school year to allow teachers the flexibility to provide student enrichment or remediation.
Among the ideas suggested by Superintendent Fred Heid is having high schools open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., giving juniors and seniors the flexibility to select classes and decide what times to attend, much like a college setting.
Burley, seeking her second term, said having the district's high schools function more like a college campus would give students the opportunity to take more classes, if they so choose.
"That's what our community seems to want -- a lot more choices," she said.
District 300 already offers a variety of choices for students, including a charter school, an Accelerate College program through Elgin Community College, dual language courses, and career pathway programs in technical fields, Burley said.
Miller, 58, an attorney seeking her sixth term, said while there have been no formal discussions about changing school schedules, it's clear teachers need more instructional time with students in elementary grades. "They are kind of the most vulnerable and they have the shortest day," she said.
District officials looked at the possibility of year-round school years ago and have instituted a late-start schedule for middle schools and high schools, and early release for elementary grades on 10 Fridays during the school year to accommodate teacher training for one hour on those days. Starting next school year, all district schools will switch to an early-release model for those 10 days.
"How much more professional development could be done, if we had a longer school day," Miller said.
LaMarca, 47, who serves on the governing board of Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, said she doesn't have any strong preferences about switching to a year-round calendar or having longer school days, but she welcomes creative ideas.
"I find the dialogue really interesting," she said, adding that much research and analysis is needed. "It's really about finding more time in our day. It is a challenge we all face."
Scarpino, 63, a retired District 300 associate superintendent, said a lot must be considered before the district could adopt a flexible schedule, including how it would affect employees' wages, hours and working conditions.
"The reality is, if we are going to be asking the employees to work longer, it's not going to be free," he said. "If you have a year-round school, when do you have athletics and how do you utilize transportation? I'm all for thinking out of the box. The challenge is it is difficult to do something like this."
Beyer, 27, an assistant bowling team coach at Jacobs High School, proposes having a four-day school week so teachers can receive training on the fifth day. She said a Colorado school district has implemented such a schedule and seen improved academic results.
"It has a potential to give you a different experience ... gives teachers time to re-juice, relax. ... To be more competitive, changing the schedule might be worth looking into," she said.
McNicholas, 20, a 2014 graduate of Dundee-Crown High School, said adding an hour to the elementary school schedule might be challenging because students have limited attention spans, but she likes the idea of adding more instructional time. She supports creative scheduling for high school students. "Any idea that gives students more flexibility in how they design and interact in school is worth investigating," she said.