High Schools Consider Starting 2 Weeks Earlier
Niles West and Niles North High Schools (D-219) are looking at a calendar change, requested by students, that would have them starting school two weeks earlier in August. But will it jive with grade schools, parks?
The plan, which is included in the district’s annual review of programs, calls for classes to start about two weeks earlier than they do now. (School started on Aug. 21 this year; two weeks earlier would have been Aug. 7.)
The first semester would end before winter break, and the second semester would end in May.
“It was our own students who brought this to us,” said District 219 Superintendent Nanciann Gatta. “And it’s not the first time the idea has been raised. It’s been coming up for about 10 years.”
Members of student government brought the idea up at a breakfast with the school board last year because too many students felt they had to spend their winter breaks studying for first semester finals – now held the week after students return to school in January – or working on projects due at the end of the semester. Changing the schedule so that the break would fall between semesters would give them a “real winter break,” Gatta said the students told administrators.
Parents who attended screenings of “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary about the stress high school students face, also supported changing the schedule, Gatta said.
A schedule change offers benefits in addition to a less-stressful break, according to the material provided in the annual review of programs. It gives students 10 to 15 extra days of instruction before they have to take high-stakes tests that are offered on the same dates across the state or across the country, including the ACT and Advanced Placement exams. It also lines up better with college schedules, which could make it easier for new graduates to take summer session classes at area colleges.
It also could give District 219 students a leg up when it comes to finding summer jobs, since they will finish classes earlier.
But it could also mean that families with both high school and elementary school children will be juggling two different school schedules, if the elementary districts in Niles Township don’t follow suit, and it could create conflicts with area park district programs.
Gatta said she has discussed the proposal with area elementary school superintendents and park districts. The elementary districts now are trying to gauge how important it is to families to have elementary and high schools on the same schedule before deciding what they will do, Gatta said.
However, she noted, the elementary and high school districts have never had exactly the same schedule.
Many District 219 students already start showing up at school for sports practices and extracurricular activities that begin in mid-August, Gatta said, so for them, this wouldn’t be too much of a change.
Parents can weigh in on all the changes proposed in the annual review of programs at the Principal's Town Hall meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at Niles North. The school board will discuss the changes at its meeting at 7:45 p.m. Nov. 26 in the district’s administration building, and vote on the changes at its meeting at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 17.
Other items on the annual review of programs include requiring students to have a scheduled lunch period, expand summer school and creating a “director of equity” position to help eliminate the achievement gap between different racial and ethnic groups.