By Jeff Vorva
High School District 230 Superintendent James Gay was amped up when he was proposing adding an extra half hour to the school day at Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew high schools.
During a 20-plus minute discussion at last Thursday’s board of education meeting, the usually low-key and composed Gay spoke swiftly and jumped from thought-to-thought. At one time, he slowed down, stopped and said, “I don’t know. Maybe I said too much. But I’m passionate about this. I am passionate about giving the kids the support they need while we have them in school.”
Gay is hoping that starting in the 2013-14 school year, the three institutions in the district will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. rather than the current 8:30 a.m.-to-3 p.m. format.
He has various reasons why he wants to add the extra 30 minutes but one of his top concerns is allowing extra assistance for students who are struggling in a subject area of skill and to have additional access to teachers outside of class. He said that visiting teachers after school works for some students but not those who need to take busses home.
“We can build time in the day,” Gay said. “I feel, and some of the student and parents committees also feel, that some of the time is misplaced. We need to shift that time in the day to give students help long-term. And we have students who can’t stay after school. They have to go home and maybe have to take care of siblings or have to work.”
Gay is also mulling eliminating the hour-long lunch period for Sandburg juniors to a half-hour.
“The reason they have an hour lunch was because of space,” Gay said. “We don’t have the space or staff problems any more. Junior year is a very tough year to have an hour lunch. I would love to have an hour lunch. But it would be better to give them instructional time for that half hour – especially those who have not mastered the curriculum.”
The superintendent said he knows these moves won’t be popular with students but he said it would benefit them in the long run.
Board member Kathy Quilty expressed concerns about starting these changes next year. She said originally talk was for this to start in 2014-15.
“I feel like maybe we are rushing into this,” she said. “Maybe we need to set guidelines and talk. I know that teachers’ contracts are coming up. Maybe this is something that has to be negotiated. I think there are too many ‘ifs’ about this. Maybe we should wait and take our time.”
Gay said he is working on ironing out some of the details but said that it’s important to get this rolling as soon as possible.
“Every time 2,000 kids graduate, we’re not meeting their needs,” Gay said. Whatever we do, however the plan comes out, it’s going to be amazingly more than what we have right now. When I started talking about this in August, I said we were looking for this a few years down the road. But when we started up the committees, we have been bombarded by everybody — including students — that where we are now, we are not meeting their needs.
“Everyone is saying that.”
In other news from the meeting, the board unanimously voted to change its policy on cell phone and electronics use. Previously those items were not allowed to be used from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the schools and needed to be out of sight.
As of Monday, they are allowed to use the items in the hallways and at lunch time but not in classrooms.