District officials outline ideas for new school day

CARY – Next year, District 26 parents likely will have fewer pictures to hang on the refrigerator and fewer concerts to attend.

Proposals detailed last week outline changes to art, music, gifted and other special programs that show the very real toll the $5.4 million in budget cuts will take on students.

Mary Dudek, District 26 curriculum and instruction director, offered ideas to manage the changes ranging from private company offerings for band, to holding art and music lessons during junior high social studies classes.

“It’s important to have a starting point,” she said, adding that she expects to have a final proposal by the end of the school year.

The most notable change for elementary students likely is to art, music and physical education activities, which would be taught by in-classroom teachers rather than a designated specialist.

Also, art and music each would be offered for 30 minutes every other week, as opposed to the hour per week students have of each now.

Junior High students face similar changes. Band will be cut from the school day, and officials hope to offer it after-school, perhaps through a private company.

Foreign language, industrial technology, and family and consumer sciences also will be gone from the school day, and no specific alternatives have been suggested.

Dudek said she understands how hard it will be if they aren’t offered in any form.

“They were my kids’ favorites,” she said.

Meanwhile, the gifted program for all ages would undergo significant changes. Notably, it’s slated to be reclassified as an “accelerated program.”

Students in elementary school no longer would receive special gifted instruction time, but instead would be grouped together in classes and given special opportunities by in-class teachers. Junior high students would be placed in sections of accelerated reading and/or math.

Classroom teachers are scheduled to receive training in the new areas, and all the programs still will meet state requirements, Dudek said.

“Monkey bars does not count for P.E.,” she said. “[And] I won’t say, ‘Go draw a picture’ and that’s art.”

Mary Lynn Doherty, assistant professor of music education at Northern Illinois University, said the situation sounds disappointing for students.

“Music [for example], is a place where a lot of kids find success and motivation,” she said. “When you limit the amount of music instruction ... you limit an area of schooling that is truly ... meaningful to a ton of students.”

Another consequence of the changes is that teachers would lose planning time. The district is in talks with the teachers’ union to address that, Dudek said.

Ideas at this point include, offering planning time before or after school, or during the day while students have silent reading time or study hall. The domino effect might be that the school day starts and ends at a different time, Dudek said.

Officials have been discussing the curriculum changes during community engagement meetings – the next is March 15 – and Dudek said she’s still open to suggestions.

“I live within the community,” she said. “I have neighbors who are going to these schools. This is important.”

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