The Riverside Elementary School District 96 calendar may be reorganized for the coming school year, altering the structure of early-release days and adjusting students’ traditional break periods to decrease the use of substitute teachers in the district and better match students’ natural learning cycles.

Announced by Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson at the Jan. 16 meeting of the District 96 school board, many of the proposed changes are a response to a long-time complaint of parents over the district’s tendency to pull teachers out of classrooms for administrative work during the school day. In their absence, substitute teachers are used, which can slow the pace of learning for students.

“We’re lean administratively, and we need to rely on staff for a lot of work,” Lamberson said. “But we need to figure out a way to stop pulling them out of high optimal learning times with students.”

To do this, Lamberson proposed changing the structure of the district’s existing early release days, where students are let out at about 1 p.m., to half-day school improvement days, where students would be released at 11:30 a.m. This would increase the amount of time teachers have outside the classroom and reduce the need for substitutes on regular school days.

Recognizing that it may be difficult to keep students’ attention in the classroom on these half-days, Lamberson also suggested that they should be used for special school-wide events, such as assemblies or performances.

The second goal of adjusting the school calendar is to fit the calendar to students’ natural learning cycles. Short weeks after and before long breaks will be eliminated. For example, the first week of the school year has normally been only 2.5 days long. Lamberson suggested making the first week 4.5 days to give more time for orientation and assessment.

In addition, the two-day week before Thanksgiving would be altered, giving students the entire week off. Lamberson said the two days of classroom time would be replaced by a full-day parent-teacher conference and a teacher institute day.

Finally, a nine-week span of time between the district’s spring break and Memorial Day will be broken up, with one three-day week for students, where the remaining two days will again be used for teacher training or institute days.

“These are not optimal learning times,” Lamberson said, “so let’s use them for other purposes.”

One last change that Lamberson proposed was shifting the district from a quarter grading system to a trimester grading system. Instead of four nine-week grading periods, the district would use three 12-week periods. Lamberson said this could result in higher quality student assessments.

Lamberson said he was hoping to institute these changes for the 2007-08 school year, but would first collect feedback from teachers and the district’s PTA presidents.

“We’re going to look at feedback regarding changes for the coming year,” he said. “If that feedback is such that we need to think about these changes further, we’ll do that.”