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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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