District 303 will start a week earlier in the fall, and parents' reactions are mixed

  • St. Charles North High School will be back in session Aug. 14 for the 2019-2020 school year, giving students the chance to finish finals before the holiday break.

      St. Charles North High School will be back in session Aug. 14 for the 2019-2020 school year, giving students the chance to finish finals before the holiday break. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/16/2019 7:21 PM

St. Charles Unit District 303 students will start classes a week earlier next academic year, a change that has spurred mixed reactions among parents.

In a 2019-2020 calendar approved by the school board this week, the first day of school is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 14, shifting the first semester so it ends before winter break. The last day of classes will be May 22, 2020, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, if no emergency days are used.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The district's calendar committee for years has been contemplating the change that allows high schoolers to be done with final exams before the holidays, according to a note sent to families.

With an earlier start date, District 303 better aligns with nearby districts such as Batavia and Kaneland, officials said. It also gives high school students more time to prepare for standardized and AP tests.

"Overall, this will be in the best interest of the school district and, in particular, our high schools," board President Kathy Hewell said.

A survey conducted last year by the student councils at both high schools showed 62 percent of students would like to complete finals before going on break, according to the district. About two-thirds of teachers at all levels -- and 81 percent who teach high school -- also favored the change, Hewell said.

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But some district parents say they believe the plan's drawbacks outweigh its benefits. With a son in first grade and another entering kindergarten next year, Sarah Taylor Sikorski said she would prefer school to start after Labor Day so children can enjoy the warm summer weather.

"August is a month that kids should be spending outside, at the beach, going for bike rides with friends," she said, "not sitting in a classroom or inside their house doing homework."

Sikorski also said she worries about high schoolers losing out on the extra study time if finals take place before break -- a concern shared by Hewell and other board members.

Between end-of-semester projects, concerts, sporting events and charity work, Hewell said, adding studying to the mix might "be a little tougher than some of our students think."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The board thoroughly discussed those possible implications, she said, but ultimately decided in a 6-1 vote to give the new calendar a try.

Board member Heidi Fairgrieve, who cast the dissenting vote, said her opposition wasn't to starting school earlier in August -- "I do think we should move in that direction" -- but rather to implementing the change next academic year. Some families already had planned camps, vacations or other commitments that now interfere with the beginning of school, she said.

"I did not feel that we gave adequate time for families to prepare for their own personal obligations that they might have during the summer," Fairgrieve said, noting she'd prefer the change go into effect in 2020-2021.

District parent Dien Bryner said her family booked a trip to visit relatives out of the country before the new calendar was announced. They're not scheduled to return until Aug. 21, meaning her daughter will miss her first full week of high school.

"I would love for (the district) to reconsider this change," Bryner said.

Carolyn Minear said her family supports the new calendar, even if it gives them a slightly shorter summer. Waiting until after break to take finals is stressful for her sons, who attend St. Charles East High School, she said.

"You had a little bit more time to study, but it's hanging over your head," Minear said. "They need that chance to unwind, recharge and get ready to go back. It gives them a nice fresh start when they go back in January."

The new calendar also replaces two full school improvement days with four half days to comply with the state's updated school code requirements, district officials said.

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