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School board votes 'yes' to calendar change, early exams

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 10:46 a.m. CDT

BARRINGTON – The Barrington 220 Board of Education approved a controversial 2014-2015 academic calendar Tuesday that moves first-semester exams before Christmas break.

After monthslong conversation, board members voted 4-2 to follow through with an Input 220 Advisory Council recommendation to end Barrington High School's first semester before winter break to better balance the number of school days in the fall and spring semesters. BHS students will now take final exams in a university-style format, before the holidays, rather than mid-January.

The changes will have no effect on spring break, which is always the last full week of March. Although, Columbus Day (Oct. 13, 2014) will now be an attendance day for the district.

In the months leading up to the decision, many community members spoke out against the calendar change, expressing a concern that summer vacation would only become shorter each year with annual calendar adjustments.

But board members addressed that concern by approving a second policy Tuesday to make sure school starts no earlier than Aug. 20 and the first semester concludes no later than Dec. 22.

The safeguard policy calls for no more than a 10-day attendance difference between first and second semesters, and further states that any changes to these dates must undergo a public hearing with the final approval occurring no earlier than 14 days after the hearing.

District 220 spokesman Jeff Arnett said Tuesday's decision was the beginning of the district's most strict calendar policy yet.

The advisory council, made up of 35 community members, began researching the calendar change possibilities in March 2013. After hearing the council recommendation in October, board members conducted an online survey to gather public opinion – holding several additional public hearings.

Community members speaking out against the calendar change Tuesday expressed concern over faulty research methods and a lack of survey objectivity. Joining this conversation was board member Wendy Farley, who lent some insight toward her vote against the changes.

"I do not think the proposed benefits will outweight the changes," Farley said. "I've heard January may be a slower time of the year for families, with more time for students to study."

Farley added that she remains frustrated with the survey itself.

Laura Bock, a mother of Barrington elementary and high school students, said the survey was misleading. Bock explained that a question of "do you want your student to experience less stress?" would be something any mother might answer "yes" to – whether or not they were in favor of a calendar change.

Bock said she believes family holidays and student-community involvement will suffer because of the calendar change.

Advisory council member Kristina Anderson was present Tuesday to share similar concerns. Anderson said she worked with the calendar change committee and still does not think the seven months of work generated enough research to support the decision.

"I don't think the calendar change will benefit students at any grade level," Anderson said. "I say we hold off on the change for a couple of years and move onto other initiatives."

Voting yes to the changes, board member Joseph Ruffolo took a different stance, citing his 25 years of teaching experience. Ruffolo said he thought the survey was straight forward and that he found the council's research results to be valid.

Ruffolo said that as a high school teacher in another district, with exams before winter break, he has seen many benefits from the change.

"If you live it, you can see it," Ruffolo said. "It makes a difference."

Board member Richard Burkhart cast the second "no" vote by phone conference and board member Christopher Geier was not present Tuesday. Board members Penny Kazmier, Brian Battle and Sandra Bradford joined Ruffolo in approving the changes.

Per the new policy, the 2014-2015 school year will begin on Aug. 20 and conclude on June 4. The first semester will be 83 days long (18 weeks) and the second semester will be a bit longer – 93 days (20 weeks).

Arnett said there has been an average of three to four weeks inequity between the two semesters, up until Tuesday's change.

Students will attend school for 176 days next year. A full calendar can be viewed at www.barrington220.org.

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