PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — As the school year nears the end and summer break looms, opinions still vary on the implementation of the new calendar which gives more time off during the year but a shorter summer break.
Gregory Wilson, one of the School Board members who voted against the calendar change last year, said he’s heard good things about it.
“I go off the opinions of the students, teachers and the administrators, they are the ones who have to deal with the calendar on a daily basis,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews for the calendar. From students, they love the breaks they have. It comes at the right time.”
Wilson said he’s heard the same thing from teachers, noting it gives them a chance to “rest and refuel” before jumping back into the fray. It’s about getting a break at the right moment for teachers and students, he said.
The sense from teachers within Peoria Public Schools is the district’s new calendar offers them a break but it doesn’t really do much to help with student performance, discipline or an improvement in school culture.
A recent survey by the union that represents PPS teachers indicated that roughly half liked the modified calendar, which offers longer fall and spring breaks in return for a shorter summer, but by a wide margin, teachers did not think it offered up gains in academics that could not have been done by the traditional calendar.
“I don’t think I was too surprised when it came to the low numbers when it came to academics and discipline because I don’t think restructuring the school year is going to solve those very deep problems,” said Jeff Adkins-Dutro, the head of the local chapter of the Peoria Federation of Teachers.
Parents, however, in a Facebook group, were much more vocal about their views on the calendar. Many who had younger children seemed to like it, saying the longer breaks were good but they bemoaned having issues with childcare.
Others who have older children tended to not be in favor of it. And many people also said they liked the idea but that it needed “tweaking” to get the right fit for Peoria.
Rachel Smith, who is dealing with both a balanced calendar at Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Center and a modified calendar at her other child’s school, C.T. Vivian Primary School, said she’s not a fan.
“Every time we had an intercession with my Valeska student, there was a staff issue. During spring intersession, my daughter’s temporary paraprofessional did not change her diaper the entire day on Wednesday. When questioned about it, she assumed she could do it herself. So how did her diaper get changed the other two days?” she said. “D150 is taking anyone and everyone for these jobs just to fill the spots and not properly training them or making sure they are equipped for the jobs.
When reached initially for comment, the district declined to provide one. When asked again, district spokeswoman Haleemah Na’Allah emailed a one-line answer: “Per the Superintendent, the modified calendar provides rest and respite. We have no further statement.”
But Wilson said he’s not heard from anyone who had any complaints about the new calendar.
“I’m in the schools a lot and that’s one of the questions that I ask students particularly, ‘how do they like it?’ They love it. And it’s good to note that in the beginning, most students were against it. Now, they will say they like it,” he said.
Lynn Fingerhut, parent of two children, a 4th grader at Whittier Primary School and a 7th grader at Reservoir Gifted Academy, said she didn’t think things went well this year with the new calendar, at least for her family.
“The transition after the long fall break and the long spring break has been really challenging. I think the kids just have two weeks to kind of get into the sleeping later, playing more video games,” she said. “We both still have to work so there isn’t a lot of time to spend with the kids unfortunately over those two weeks.”
She gets that kids have had to ease back into school after breaks before but then it was just twice – summer and winter breaks. Now, she said, it’s fall, summer, spring and winter breaks.
“Especially with the spring break. They came from two weeks off and immediately jumped into testing,” she said. “It’s definitely been an added challenge for us.”
None of their family members out of Peoria are on break nor are their friends from other districts, she said. And the district’s break doesn’t line up at all with Bradley University’s break so they can’t go out of town, she said.
Wilson said the opposite, that he’s heard that people are enjoying the break as it allows them to rest and get ready for the new set of classes. He says taking two weeks off instead of one is helping people recharge.
And while Fingerhut admits her kids like the rest and they like sleeping in, she thinks they get more out of the break time over the summer when the rest of their peers are off school as well and they can go to camps.
Summers are another issue, she said, noting Peoria Park District’s summer camps don’t line up with the district’s calendar, meaning that kids have to choose what to do.
Wilson said he awaits a report after the school year is over on how things went and also to see some data regarding how the change affected discipline, attendance and learning loss.