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Peoria Public Schools board tables vote on modified calendar, wants assurances on return to two-tier bell schedule first

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Tim Shelley
/
WCBU
A full house packed the Peoria Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Mon, Jan. 24, 2022.

The Peoria Public Schools board of education has tabled a vote on adoption of a modified academic calendar for the 2022-23 school year until board member receive assurances of a return to a two-tiered bell schedule next school year.

The modified calendar would send students and staff back to school in early August, and extend fall and spring breaks out to 10 days. It differs from the originally proposed balanced calendar that would have shortened summer vacation to just a month.

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat verbally promised a return to the two-tier bell schedule next year, but board member Mike Murphy sought a "guarantee" the district would resolve the transportation challenges which forced the adoption of a three-tier bell schedule in the first place. The current three-tier schedule requires a shortened school day.

Kherat said the district has hired more drivers, but needs the board's support to become more "competitive" in an effort to fill the remaining workforce gap.

"We're down to needing about 10 folks, and we're at a plateau. But we have a strategy that we believe will help us to get those 10 people," she said.

Dr. Alexander Ikejiaku, associate superintendent for human resources, said that strategy will involve talks with the union representing transportation workers.

"At a minimum, it will involve hiring. And of course, hiring involves setting the compensation at a point that we will be able to attract and retain," he said.

The vote to table the calendar issue came only after a lengthy public input session, with most of the audience members speaking Monday night opposed to the new modified calendar.

Lynn Fingerhut said she doesn't believe the community has had enough input into the idea.

"I don't think we have enough information. I think this has been a very disruptive couple of years, and obviously there are other problems we need to address before we roll this out. So I don't think this needs to be happening seven months from now," she said.

Richwoods High School junior Anthony Joseph also opposed the new calendar, speaking on behalf of more than 600 people who signed a Change.org petition against the change.

"There is simply not enough evidence to suggest that students benefit from schooling with a shorter summer break," he said. "It is neither socially nor academically beneficial, because most American schools do not operate on that schedule."

Many audience members also brought up childcare concerns with the longer breaks. Kherat said the district and other community agencies will work on a plan to address those needs.

Kherat argues changing the academic calendar will lead to better student and staff attendance, fewer disciplinary issues, and less "summer slide," or learning loss during the extended break.

She cites feedback from Harrison Community Learning Center, which adopted the modified calendar at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year as a pilot project. Valeska Hinton and Knoxville operate on a balanced calendar concept. Kherat also said she's talked to administrators in Rock Island and Brownsberg, Ind. whose districts have adopted modified schedules about the positive changes they've seen.

"Essentially, if we want different results as a district, we have to continue to pilot and to do things differently," she said.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.