Why District 303 graduation ceremonies are moving to weekdays

  • St. Charles Unit District 303 school board members will vote Feb. 10 on a five-year contract with Northern Illinois University for use of its Convocation Center for graduation ceremonies.

    St. Charles Unit District 303 school board members will vote Feb. 10 on a five-year contract with Northern Illinois University for use of its Convocation Center for graduation ceremonies. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Posted1/31/2020 5:22 AM

Though weekend graduation ceremonies have been customary in the past, St. Charles high school seniors will receive their diplomas on a weekday this year to align with an earlier academic calendar.

That practice may become the new norm for District 303, which is working to finalize graduation dates for the classes of 2021 to 2025.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The school board is expected to vote Feb. 10 on a five-year contract with Northern Illinois University for the use of its Convocation Center, where graduation ceremonies for St. Charles North and East high schools have been held since 2017.

The district's existing deal with NIU expires this summer, after the Class of 2020 is honored Thursday, May 21.

Under the new proposal, graduation dates would be set for May 24, 2021, and May 23, 2022 -- both Mondays. The district could then work with NIU to choose dates for the next three years depending on the venue's availability.

"Is this ideal? Of course not," said Mark Moore, assistant superintendent for leadership and administrative services. "Ideal would be Sunday. But that's not an option."

The decision to hold this year's ceremony on a weekday stems from classes starting a week earlier than in the past, ultimately pushing up the rest of the academic year, spokeswoman Carol Smith said. The change places District 303 on a similar calendar as that of several nearby districts, she said, but it also leads to graduation scheduling conflicts.

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NIU's Convocation Center was not available the weekend that best aligns with the last day of school this year, resulting in a Thursday ceremony. That problem persisted in future years, when only weekdays are open, Smith said.

Administrators consulted with high school principals and faculty members, who preferred Mondays over the other dates available.

At $16,000 for this year's graduation, NIU is a cheaper option than many area venues, Smith said. The Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, for example, costs a minimum $48,000.

But school board President Carolyn Waibel believes it would be worth the additional expense to find a different venue that has availability on the district's desired weekend, she said, noting her opinion is not a reflection of the board as a whole.

"This is a once-a-year event. This is a celebration of 13 years of education," Waibel said. "I think it's OK for the district and board to come up with alternate ideas or extra expenditures for this specific celebration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"(Weekdays) are too inconvenient for our families, and we need to put our families first."

A weekday graduation poses a greater risk of logistical challenges, particularly for students whose relatives are traveling from out of town, or those who have siblings in other grade levels or extracurricular activities, board member Jillian Barker said. With one school's ceremony held at 4 p.m. and the other at 7:30 p.m., some parents also will have to take the day off work or leave early.

But paying significantly more money to hold the ceremony on a weekend would be "hard to swallow," Barker said. If weekdays are the only options, she said, she believes a larger group of community members -- such as the new citizen advisory committee -- needs to weigh in on which days are best.

"Faculty senses that (Monday) is a better date for them, but graduation is not only about the faculty," she said. "They work very hard for these kids, but it really is about the kids and the families."

Though the situation isn't ideal, board member Ed McNally said the district is at a point where it needs to "bite the bullet" and lock in whatever dates it can.

Administrators have taken several factors into account in choosing dates and negotiating the new contract with NIU, Smith said.

"There's got to be that balance," she said. "What we're hoping is that giving families 15 months' notice will help (families) with their scheduling."

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