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Unit 5 may drop late-start dates for half-day learning model

Unit 5 signage


Unit 5 families may be saying goodbye to late-start Wednesdays.

A proposed calendar for Unit 5’s 2022-2023 academic year calls for eliminating the district’s 12 late-start dates, and replacing them with seven half-days of learning.

Administrators told the school board at its meeting Wednesday night the proposal, in part, stems from teachers' experiences this year with staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.

Difficulty in having an adequate pool of substitutes means classes must be covered by other teachers, teaching assistants, or administrators, said superintendent Kristen Weikle. The result has been a lack of planning time.

More immediate relief is coming with two upcoming Fridays planned as these types of half-day learning models.

On Jan. 28 and Feb. 11, students will be dismissed as follows: 10:30 a.m. for high schools; 10:45 a.m. for elementary schools; and 11:45 a.m. for middle schools. On those days, students can take grab-and-go lunches.

“Staff will use the afternoon time for some much-needed planning, so that we can provide the best instruction to our students,” said Weikle.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board unanimously approved a $1.4 million energy efficiency project, and heard an update on the district’s Equity Action Plan.

Assistant Superintendent Michelle Lamboley told the board the proposed 2022-23 calendar calls for seven days set up similar to the ones announced for Jan. 28 and Feb. 11.

Those seven half-days also would include “grab-and-go” lunch options for all students. The half-day schedules would be: elementary, 7:45 to 10:45 a.m.; middle school, 8:45 to 11:45 a.m.; and high school, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. The half-days would be spread across the calendar, as opposed to always being on a Wednesday, she said.

Lamboley said more than 70 percent of the district’s Professional Learning Committee supports the change. The board is expected to vote next month on the proposed structural changes, she said after the meeting.

Bond vote planned for February

Unit 5 leaders are banking on using up to $46 million in bonds to tide the district over as it weathers a growing $12.5 million structural deficit.

Ahead of next month’s vote on whether to issue the bonds, the board held a required public hearing on Wednesday, prior to its regular meeting. No one signed up for public comment.

Board member Alan Kalitsky, who called in remotely to the meeting, did reiterate his views that he supports issuing bonds, but wants the community to recognize it is only a temporary fix to the district’s budget issues.

“There will come a time that we, as a board, will have to make some tough decisions,” he said.

$1.4 million project OK'd

The board unanimously approved spending $1.4 million with Alpha Controls and Services on a project to improve air quality, while cutting back on district energy bills.

The upgrades will be at the district's two high schools, and Parkside and Pepper Ridge elementary schools. The project will be covered with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, said Joe Adelman, Unit 5's operations director.

He said project cost will be offset by $85,000 in utility incentives. Also, the district will see about $275,000 annually in realized savings, after the upgrade, he said.

"This demonstrates we are looking at ways to make our schools more efficient" both in energy use, and costs, said Kalitsky.

Equity Action Plan update

Kristal Shelvin, the district’s first director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, has been charged with developing Unit 5’s efforts to address inequities.

On Wednesday, Shelvin updated the board on the district’s Equity Action Plan, the second such report she's presented. Last fall focus areas included bolstering diverse staff recruitment, increasing DEI professional training, and helping administrators learn how to navigate available data tools.

One area of inequity Unit 5 wants to examine is disciplinary action, she said. Building principals and their staff are incorporating monthly discipline data reviews, looking at categories, and then analyzing data, trying to find the root causes of disparities.

“We can’t just stop with the numbers,” said Shelvin, adding the district needs to move beyond the instances, and dig deeper into the causes behind them.

This spring, Shelvin said high school students will help develop the student equity leadership team. It's first meeting is Feb. 7. Eventually, the group will add middle schoolers, and then elementary students, she said.

Another area in which the Equity Action Plan has been making strides is improving communication access for Unit 5 families. This past quarter, Unit 5 diversity leaders have been expanding video tutorials to increase parent access to Infinite Campus, Unit 5’s family connection portal.

Board president Amy Roser said its incredible to hear how much progress has been made since the district’s Equity Action Audit was published last fall.

First student bus location app 

The board also heard that more than 1,000 families have signed up for a new bus transportation mobile app, in just the few days since it’s started, Weikle said she'd like to see even more take part. People can learn more at the district’s website, under the transportation tab.

Bus company First Student launched the First View app to help parents track the location and direction of their children’s bus, she said.

Late bus arrivals have been a major issue this school year, as First Student struggles to retain enough drivers, given pandemic issues.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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