Students at Komarek School in North Riverside will have a half hour more of instructional time every day this year, the result of a key change in the teachers’ contract, ratified by the District 94 school board Aug. 10.

Teachers agreed to cut their lunch period from one hour to a half hour and students lose their traditional half-hour recess period after lunch. The result, said Superintendent Neil Pellicci, is that students will gain what amounts to 14 more school days’ worth of instruction.

“As the state increases its standards, it’s our job to stay above that,” said Pellicci. “Without increasing [instructional] minutes, we were stretching ourselves totally thin.”

But after convincing teachers to make the change, the school board is finding out that it isn’t sitting well with some parents, who want to keep recess in the school day.

Prior to ratifying the contract on Aug. 10, the school board heard from about 10 parents protesting the change. The parents’ comments resulted in a compromise by the board to allow teachers to award a half-hour recess period on occasion and subject to approval by the school’s principal. The board also agreed to allow teachers to let children go outside after eating during the half-hour lunch period.

“The parents made valid points about the kids getting out,” Pellicci said. “The board, [Principal] Tom [Criscione] and I came up with this. During the half-hour lunch period we’ll let students, halfway through, go out and have recess. We’ll have supervisors on the playground, so we’ll have recess.”

But some parents are still not happy with the solution. In an e-mail, Komarek parent Lisa Abbinante McDonald told the Landmark, “Kids barely have enough time to eat because their program is disorganized and restrictive. … My children will no doubt stop ordering the school lunch in favor of something quick and easy just to get a few measly minutes of outdoor time.”

McDonald also pointed to a resolution being considered in the state legislature related to school recess periods. Senate Joint Resolution 80, now in the House rules committee, seeks to create a Recess in School Task Force. The 15-person task force would be charged with studying the issue and sending along recommendations to the General Assembly.

The resolution’s sponsor is state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th), who represents the eastern portion of North Riverside. It contends, among other things, that “children provided with recess are more focused, on-task, and able to concentrate on educational material than those who are not afforded a recess period” and that “cognitive function improves when a child has the opportunity for physical exercise and active play.”

According to McDonald, in a letter she wrote to board members and Pellicci, “Likely, children will opt out of eating in favor of getting some free, unstructured time. You will see how focused the children will be on an empty stomach.”

Pellicci said that school officials will try to make sure students won’t be skipping lunch in order to hit the playground.

“At first it’ll be an issue, and we’ll have extra people in the lunchroom to work with students to make sure they’re not rushing to get outside.”

In his experience, Pellicci said, children can eat a good lunch in 10 to 15 minutes. The main goal, he said is to improve student achievement by providing more instructional time.

“My view is that we’re here to prepare children for high school and get them academically ready,” Pellicci said. “There are areas that need to be strengthened, and we need more time to do that. Over time I think this will have a huge impact.”

The recess issue hasn’t been totally settled. According to Pellicci, a committee of administrators, teachers, school board members and, possibly, a parent will convene in January to evaluate the new schedule.

“If there are any changes they may happen this year or in the following school year,” Pellicci said.