Students in Riverside Elementary School District 96 may occasionally get out of school a little early next year so that their teachers can have more time to collaborate and work on implementing the new Common Core curriculum.

The exact details of a release program have yet to be determined, but last week the District 96 administration presented four alternatives for more professional development to the school board. Two of those proposals involved an early release of students from school.

But proposals from the district’s administration again received pushback from the board, and a board-proposed alternative has emerged as perhaps the most likely plan to be adopted.

Board Vice President Rachel Marrello suggested taking elements of two administration proposals and releasing students early twice a month. The preferred alternative by the administration was releasing students an hour early one day each week.

“The more time we can get the better,” said Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis.

But Sharma-Lewis reacted positively to Marrello’s proposal.

“I think that the compromise that you proposed is a good starting point,” Sharma-Lewis told Marrello at last week’s meeting of the school board’s education committee.

Marrello says she wants teachers to have time for collaboration, but she is worried about the loss of instructional time and the impact of early dismissal on working parents.

“We want them to get professional development, there’s no doubt about it,” Marrello said. “It’s how we go about it.”

But on Monday, Marrello appeared to backtrack a bit and said the district’s new law firm is looking at whether the district’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will allow the district to require teachers to do more professional development during the time students are not scheduled to be in school.

“All of the options may be revised or off the table altogether, depending on the attorneys’ review of the teachers’ CBA,” Marrello said in an email on Monday.  “It is my ‘lay’ opinion that none of these options capture all of the non-instructional time that may be available to us under the CBA.”

One option presented last week, called Option 2, does not disrupt the school day. Under this option, teachers would stay late for two hours once a month for professional development. 

Teachers would have to be paid extra for time they spend at school after 4 p.m. (elementary schools) or 4:15 p.m. (Hauser). For their last hour of professional development, teachers would have to be paid $36 an hour, which could cost the district nearly $65,000. 

Attendance during this last hour would be voluntary since, according to their contract, teachers cannot be forced to stay more than one hour after the last bell. Forty-six percent of teachers said in an internal survey that they would not stay past the required time.

District administrators said additional time for training and collaboration are essential next year as the district implements the new Common Core standards, which are more rigorous than what has been taught and expected of students in the past.

“We feel our students are not prepared for the rigor of the Common Core,” said Todd Gierman, the principal of Ames School.

Administrators are concerned about how students will do on the new PARRC test, which will replace the more familiar Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) test next year.

“We don’t feel we’re as prepared for the PARCC as we need to be,” Gierman said.

The district has been playing catch-up all year in preparing for the Common Core, because little work was done under the prior administration, according to current administrators.

This year, the district formed two Common Core Action Teams and members of the committees have met during the school day, which has required extensive use of substitute teachers.

“I strongly do not recommend that we continue doing what we have been doing,” said Brian Ganan, the district’s director of academic excellence.

When Sharma-Lewis first proposed a weekly late-start day for students to allow time for teacher collaboration and professional development, the proposal was criticized by Marrello and some other board members as being very difficult for working parents. So Sharma-Lewis went back to the drawing board, along with the district’s professional development planning team, to come up with other alternatives.

The district is considering paying the Berwyn-based Pav YMCA to provide onsite child care at four of the district’s schools during the time students would normally be in school. 

The cost of providing child care range would range from nearly $11,000 for a monthly early-release program to approximately $40,000 for a weekly early-release of students. Those figures were based on the results of a survey of parents, which showed about 50 percent of families would need child care.

Board member Art Perry believes that families who use the child care, not the district, should pay for the costs of the early-release child care program. 

“I’m also not real keen on the district paying for the child care,” Perry said. “I think offering the child care through Pav YMCA staffing or whatever would be a great idea.”

Perry also said that a weekly early release would be easier for parents to adjust to than two early-release days a month.

Brookfield-LaGrange Elementary School District 102 and Oak Park Elementary School District 97 both dismiss their students about an hour early each week, so teachers can do professional development. For at least the past five years, Riverside-Brookfield High School has started 40 minutes later than normal on Thursdays, so that teachers can use that time to collaborate.

District 102 provides child care during its early-release time, but parents must pay for it.

 One parent who attended the education committee meeting told the school board not to overreact to parents who complain about early release.

“Give these teachers what they need,” said Rory Dominick. “They need consistency; they need it week after week.”

D96 Early Release Proposals