Heritage wants to shorten school year — bad news for students

Due to the number of heat- and snow-related school closures, the Heritage School District has asked the Regional Board of Education for approval of a shortened school year.

This is a terrible idea.

To begin with, the Heritage District failed to meet “Adequate Yearly Progress” for several years now.  See the reports at Heritage’s site, http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/card.html.  For the school to consider shortening the school year, despite repeatedly failing standards, seems completely inappropriate.  If Heritage cannot meet the minimum standards in normal-length school years, how does it expect to meet those standards in a shortened year?

In a recent article published in The Leader, Superintendent Tom Davis stated that lengthening the school year by a few days would conflict with parents’ vacations or other activities.  (See http://www.leaderlandnews.com/news/education/2014-02-18/schools-apply-act-god-waivers.html).  In the same article, Davis was cited as stating that students’ welfare was of the highest importance.  I can only suppose educating our students would not be of higher importance than that of the school year ending as originally planned, despite the district’s stated “vision statement” of “given the opportunity students can learn and achieve” and “When given … enough time … students will learn to be life-long learners, college and career ready, and able to negotiate our ever-changing global society.”  (See http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/missionvision/default.html).  How is shortening the school year providing an opportunity for our students to “learn and achieve” and how is that providing the students “enough time” to learn?  Also, the district states that “consistent rules and discipline … are necessary for all individuals.”  How is rescheduling sports and administrative matters, while cancelling school, consistent?  What example does this set for students?  The administration apparently has no answer for those serious questions.

This is also the school district that spent many thousands, if not millions, of dollars on sports facilities and gymnasiums.  No such extravagant expenditure was proposed for books.  So much for educational priorities.

At a recent Heritage School Board meeting, the topic of the shortened school year was discussed.  Superintendent Davis indicated that the only feedback he had received was from satisfied parents, namely those who had already planned vacations.  He grudgingly did acknowledge the receipt of at least one complaint from a parent. Despite any pleased parents’ input, Davis’ role is to ensure the best education possible for our children, rather than making sure the school year fits certain parents’ needs.   In addition, Principal Sanders strongly advocated for the shortened school year.  She argued that the extra days in early June may not be as academically “rich” for students, and that the students would be hot and “sweaty” and not focused on learning.

The average high temperature in early June is about 80 degrees.  The school year begins in August and continues through September, which are traditionally much hotter months than early June. Even if the temperatures in early June were a bit warm, would such temperatures compare to August and September?  And shouldn’t the school have facilities to deal with such weather conditions, which come year after year?   This seems like a lame excuse for failing to teach the minimum number of days and for not meeting State requirements.

Sanders’ other argument at the meeting – that students would not be focused on learning in early June – is speculative at best, and indicative of her disinterest in our students’ interests at worst.  The school year already is scheduled to end on June 2.  Sanders notably did not argue that the extension to June 2 would be pointless – probably because the extension through June 2 is not optional, even under State exceptions under so-called “Act of God” days.  If children can learn through June 2, then I am sure they can continue to learn through June 5.

Why is the school so insistent on not making up the snow days?  Why does the school not want to educate our kids to at least minimum standards?  And if children’s learning is season-dependent – according to Sanders’ logic — then why have so many previously-scheduled days off during the winter (when Sanders apparently thinks kids learn best)?  These are all mere excuses for not extending the school year by the appropriate amount of days.

It is interesting to note that sporting events affected by the cold or snow were rescheduled, and not simply cancelled.  The School Board’s February 17 meeting was affected by snow, and that was postponed rather than cancelled.  Why, then, is it appropriate to simply cancel actual school days for our children? Is it a matter of convenience for the administration and faculty, or for a select few parents who have allegedly planned crucial vacations this far in advance?  Once again, it appears that sports take precedence over education at Heritage.  There is just no good reason to shortchange our children of the educational opportunity that the school is required to provide.

At the February School Board meeting, Superintendent Davis stated that even if it accepted its request of “Act of God” days, the District would not need to necessarily use those days.  If the District did not plan on using those days, then why ask for them?  The fact is, the District asked for the days in order to shorten the school year, and only now may reconsider based on negative feedback.  The District should not use any so-called “Act of God” days to shorten the Heritage school year.

Superintendent Davis raised another point at the February School Board meeting — that most, if not all, the other superintendents in the county were seeking a similar shortening of the school year through so-called “Act of God” days.  A search of the Illinois’ Board of Education website reveals that many schools in Champaign County have failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards.  Why should our district follow the example of those failing districts?  And, when we teach our children not to succumb to peer pressure, why are we excusing the District from doing its job because other districts are not doing theirs?  This is no excuse to shorten the school year, and this is a bad example to set for our children.

With a school district that is not meeting State standards, year after year, ensuring that our children have at least the minimum number of instructional school days is not an outrageous demand.  In fact, all the parents in our district should demand this – if not more.  The parents have the highest interest in ensuring that our children receive the highest quality education, and the property-taxpayers have an interest in ensuring that the district’s children continue on to become independent, responsible, and well-educated adults.  Our entire community has a great interest in making sure that the children receive the best education possible.  Shortening the school year, through a State exception, does nothing to accomplish this goal.  Offering excuses in favor of shortening the school year does nothing to counter the serious reasons against such action.  We all owe it to our children, and the community, to make sure our district’s kids receive the education everybody is paying for, and which the kids deserve.

The Board’s vote on the amended calendar was adjourned until March’s meeting.  I urge all of the Heritage parents to contact the administration and school board members to express their opinions, either way.  I encourage any parent with views on this matter to attend the next school board meeting.  Without our input, the Heritage administration and School Board will not know how we feel.  I am sure we all want our kids to be as well-educated as possible, and I feel that shortening the school year is not the way to accomplish that.

Brian Pondenis,
Broadlands

P.S. I am also writing to our State representatives and other leaders in order to have the State law regarding “Act of God” days changed, so that schools that are not meeting adequate yearly progress standards cannot take advantage of this exception to shorten the school year.

Contact Information:

Superintendent Tom Davis, (217) 834-3393, heritage8@usa.net

Principal Sanders, (217) 896-2421, ksanders@heritage.k12.il.us

Bruce Bryan, Board Member: postmanbruce@gmail.com

Kimberly Kenily-Ashbrook, Board Member kimberly@ashbrook.biz

John Lannon, Board Member jslannon5@yahoo.com

(Other Board members’ info at: http://champaigncountyclerk.com/government/local_officials_results.php?LevyBodyIDSD=109&Submit=Go) and http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/about/default.html

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10 Comments

Filed under Heritage School District

10 responses to “Heritage wants to shorten school year — bad news for students

  1. Anonymous

    “Superintendent Davis indicated that the only feedback he had received was from satisfied parents, namely those who had already planned vacations.”

    I am one of the parents who fully agree with Superintendent Tom Davis’s decission to close school during this winter season. And I do so WITHOUT a planned vacation. I am more concerned about my childs safety then the number of school days missed.

    • Anonymous,
      I agree that school needs to be cancelled when it is not safe for the kids. No question about that, at all. The point is, that the missed days should be made up.

  2. Anonymous

    Perhaps you should run for School Board and address these issues.

    • I don’t believe that a position on the Board is a prerequisite for raising issues regarding our children. Unless “Anonymous,” posting from a Heritage computer, only believes the Board’s concerns are relevant and ignores parental concerns.

    • Anonymous

      Brian if you cared so much you would have stayed on the school board

      • Totally irrelevant… and totally dismissive of a parent’s concerns. You completely fail to address the argument in the article. Instead of hiding behind “Anonymous,” why not state your name, and present your issues with what I wrote? And if you cared so much as to comment, are you on the school board, or plan on running for a position on the board? Not that that has anything to do with the issue at hand — the school year should not be shortened.

  3. Anonymous

    You also fail to mention the nearly $250,000 spent in technology upgrades…but hey, only use statements that support what you want.

    • The post wasn’t about technology upgrades; it is about shortening the school year. I am not sure how such upgrades have anything to do with the length of the school year. And what’s the point of technology upgrades, if the kids aren’t in school to take advantage of those?

      And, “Anonymous,” I know this was posted from a Heritage computer… not sure if that is the best use of school time. But thank you for reading!

  4. Anonymous

    Every winter school is cancelled because of weather and this is how it always has been and they should make these days up no questions asked. Why would a school worry about people’s vacation planning instead of the kids learning? There are many schools that missed more than us and are not worrying about being in school longer. If students welfare is so important to schools then think about installing air conditioning units. I know people are so happy with these new gyms but I would think that air conditioning so our children could actually learn the first and last months of schools would be a bigger priority. I think in is absolutely a joke that in this day in age we don’t have them and our children are missing school because of this! This school and other small schools have no ability to meet the needs of many children and show this day after day. With our failing standards the last thing that needs to be done is to shorten the school year because they feel it will disrupt peoples plans. When children don’t get the education they need and DESERVE it makes it difficult to succeed as adults. I would think as any educator this is what they would like to achieve so if it means putting in a few more days of school should be the least of there problems especially with heritage. To me school is about giving these children a chance to be able to go to college and excel in the difficult world not about the sports program or how much they spend on technology which is still not all that great and could be better. Try teaching and interacting with the kids and meeting there needs because I would say that majority of the time this is not done. They say a small school is wonderful for the children for meeting there individual need and all i can see is that there is not enough money to meet the all kids needs. While some kids may not necessarily need the makeup days a lot of our children would benefit from them.

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