Students in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will not get out of school an hour early on Mondays in the upcoming school year.
The school district announced in an email last week that the early release program implemented last year to make time for district-wide professional development for teachers is being scrapped.
“I think the board decided that they wanted to do professional development differently and to minimize the loss of instructional time,” said Interim Superintendent Griff Powell in an interview with the Landmark.
Last year, students in District 96 got out of school about an hour early on Mondays so their teachers could do professional development. That will not happen this year. Instead, the school board and the teachers’ union, as part of their contract talks, are talking about adding professional development days to the school calendar.
The early release policy was controversial when it was adopted in 2014. Some parents complained about the loss of instructional time, while others supported then-Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis’s contention that the professional development was vital to get teachers up to speed on the new Common Core state standards and the curriculum changes the district was implementing in response to the new standards.
But with Sharma-Lewis and former Director of Academic Excellence Brian Ganan leaving the district in June, the support for the early release plan dissipated.
Powell said he personally is not a fan of early release programs. The state of Illinois requires so much testing, Powell said, that it is hard to justify losing more instructional time due to early release programs. He also said that the early release of students imposes a hardship on families with two working parents.
Karen Judy Foley, who was the leading opponent of the early release plan, is glad to see it ending.
“I think it’s great news,” Foley said. “I think obviously it’s going to get the kids back in their seats so that we can continue to have good quality instructional time.”
School board Vice President Mary Rose Mangia said she felt that intensive weekly professional development was necessary last year to implement the Common Core standards and said that the school board still values professional development.
“The training that occurred for the teachers on Common Core, I think that was very important, but hopefully there are other alternatives other than diverting instruction time from children,” Mangia said.
One District 96 teacher who the Landmark spoke to said that after a year of the weekly professional development sessions, most teachers are now comfortable with the Common Core standards and that weekly professional development was not necessary in 2015-16.
Earlier start times for 2015-16
At its July 21 meeting, the District 96 school board is scheduled to approve new schedules for its schools. The proposal on the agenda is that the school day at L.J. Hauser Junior High School will start at 8 a.m. — 35 minutes earlier than last year. School will let out at Hauser at 3:05, 18 minutes earlier than last year.
At the district’s four elementary schools, classes will start and end five minutes earlier than last year. This year the school day at the elementary schools will begin at 8:15 a.m. and school will let out at 2:55 p.m.
Under the proposed schedule, Hauser and Riverside Brookfield High School will both start classes at the same time, 8 a.m. Some parents who live in the Hollywood neighborhood around RBHS are concerned that the congestion around RBHS and First Avenue will make the trip to Hauser for their children time consuming and difficult.
The schedule change at Hauser is being proposed to make it easier to implement a new double period for math that middle school students will have this year.
The double period for math will reduce the amount of time available for elective classes at Hauser. The discussion on how to make time for electives while focusing on core subjects is continuing.
“There’s only so much time in the day,” Powell said.