Area school districts respond to questions about four-day school week
Seven school districts out of 15 in the Phase One Dakotafire region have adopted a four-day school week. Here is how the change is going in the districts that switched, and what the opinion is of the schools that have kept a five-day schedule.
Schools on a four-day-a-week schedule
The Clark School District changed to a four-day school week in 2010 for several reasons, according to Superintendent Brian Heupel.
The first was to give teachers more time for professional development, as well as time to implement the changes to the curriculum. The adoption of common core standards, which will be required by 2014, is one such change. Teachers are also changing their style to project-based learning, where teachers are more facilitators with students involved in projects that emphasize 21st-century skills.
“In order to move that direction, it takes time,” Heupel said.
Another reason was to eliminate the extra things that take up so much time in school. All of those extracurricular activities, such as many ballgames, science fair, and Destination Imagination, are now on Fridays.
“In those four days we are really able to concentrate,” Heupel said.
Help for kids that are behind or extra challenges for those who are ahead are also offered on Fridays.
The district has had some cost savings, but Heupel said that wasn’t the reason they went to the four-day schedule. They decided to have aides come in on Fridays, even though that change might have saved some money. The savings have come from transportation and food service.
Heupel said they have been pleased with the change. Initially, the community was split, but the mindset has changed since the schedule was implemented. The board invited comment at a recent meeting, and no one spoke up against the new schedule.
“Students definitely like it, and teachers like it,” he said.
Students are more engaged, and Heupel said he thinks the curriculum is stronger because of the additional teacher preparation and professional development time.
From Superintendent Jim Hulscher:
The decision (to go to a four-day week) was not financial … but we have saved money because of it. We did a lot of research before (switching).
We have seen a positive effect all the way around. Since we are only in the second year of the four-day week and we have small classrooms, we have not seen a change in Dakota STEP scores, positive or negative. However:
- Our student achievement for grades 7-12 has seen a nice improvement. We have seen more students on the honor roll and fewer students with many D’s or F’s on their report card. We have also had fewer students fail semester courses.
- We have had teachers K-12 who are at the same spot in their book at this time of the year as they would with a normal five-day week, and many of them are further in the book.
- We have not seen a negative effect on our elementary kids in the classroom. As with anything, kids adjust no matter the age.
- The big thing we have focused on is keeping the teachers in the classroom as well as the students. I have noticed fewer absences of teachers and students from school. Teachers still need days off, but I have had a lot fewer calls at 6:30 am because a teacher is “sick.”
- We have seen a positive improvement in morale among teachers and students.
Our district absolutely loves the move. We have a lot of families who love the move. Fridays give them time to do homework and chores while the rest of the weekend is used for family time. We also are a longer district so we have students who have to go 20-some miles one way to school and that is one less trip during the week.
We do actually go five full weeks of five days … One is homecoming week, another the first week of school, another is the week of all school play (matinee Friday afternoon) and the other two are usually by a big break (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc). We do this so we start school August 22ish and end school May 17ish, around the same time as the five-day week. We also only added 10 minutes to front and 10 minutes to end of school day because of this. We also took a recess away from our 4-6 graders (some teachers had a beef with this but the kids didn’t care). So our 4-6 grades have two 15-minute recesses while K-3 has three 15-minute recesses. This kept the minutes in line with state (requirements) and the amount we had the year’s prior.
Except for weather, we only dismiss early three times (last day of school, day before Christmas break and Thanksgiving break) and we do not start late for any in-services, parent teacher conferences, early dismissals, etc.
We moved as much stuff to Fridays as possible. You will not get everything moved, but you will be amazed how much stuff does get moved to Fridays.
We do offer transportation and a basic (not the normal lunch) meal on Fridays of tutoring. We have not had a lot of parents take advantage of this, but we have also not received any complaints because of not offering something for kids.
We allow any student to come in on Friday all the way from the straight-A student to the student that struggles. We often have some kids come in and work on their own to complete their homework and then leave on tutoring days. It may be more of a social thing, but they will from time to time ask the teacher for questions as well.
We eliminated senior “skip” day, one college visit day for seniors (they still have one, had two before), decorating for prom during regular school hours, 90 percent of class and organizational meetings from the school day, practice for all state chorus during regular school, elementary business fair during regular school, etc.
We strongly encourage teachers to contact parents if a child is to attend Friday school. We don’t just tell the student; because of this we have improved teacher-parent communication.
We have set up guidelines that require students to be here from 8:15 to 1:00 on tutoring days. These include more than six absences, more than three tardies, 3 D’s or F’s, make-up work not complete, etc.
Edmunds Central 22-5
Could not reach superintendent for comment.
Frederick Area 06-2
Superintendent Randy Barondeau said he’s seen improved morale among both students and teachers after the district moved to a four-day week.
“Students are not so drug out as they are on a five-day week,” he said.
The biggest benefit has come from moving extracurricular activities out of class time. Ballgames are held on Thursday, Friday or Saturday evenings as much as possible, which means that students are not, for example, coming to school trying to concentrate after playing five or six quarters of basketball and getting home at 10 p.m. the night before.
Because of the change, “they are more alert while they are here,” Barondeau said.
This has made it easier for teachers to get through their material. Barondeau said his wife, Janelle, a teacher at Frederick, has been as much as two chapters ahead of where she was in years before the schedule change.
He has also noticed that two hours of extra help on Fridays make a great deal of difference to struggling students, who might be too intimidated by excelling students to ask questions during regular class time.
Both students and teachers are asked to schedule doctor’s appointments on Fridays. Students with jobs love the change, as they are able to pick up another full day of work, and families appreciate having more time together, Barondeau said.
Some members of the community were skeptical when the change was proposed, Barondeau said, but after a public forum to discuss the topic as well as some opportunities for questions at board meetings, there was little opposition.
From CEO Jeff Clark:
Hitchcock-Tulare has switched to a four-day week and is currently in the second year. We first looked at the option about seven years ago when the two districts consolidated but did not feel that was the time to change, so we revisited the topic two years ago and have been happy with the change since.
When we looked at changing to a four-day week we really looked at five main factors in the order listed below:
1. Professional development
2. Classroom enhancement for struggling students
3. Teacher collaboration
4. Curriculum enrichment/development
5. Cost saving
So, far we have really been pleased with the change and have seen many benefits from having a Friday available for teacher development and classroom enhancement. Like any district that has switched, there is a cost savings but from year to year that savings will be different. The savings we have seen has been beneficial, especially since we have seen two devastating years in regards to state funding.
Fridays are used to accomplish a number of tasks. Some of these tasks include:
1. Staff meetings
2. IEP meetings
3. Professional development
4. Teacher collaboration
5. Curriculum mapping
6. Classroom enhancement
7. College recruiters
8. Organizational meetings (FFA, FCCLA, Yearbook, Etc)
9. Technology integration
10. Parent-teacher conferences
Webster Area 18-5
Webster school administrators are in the process of developing a survey that will ask parents, students, teachers and businesses for their thoughts on the four day school week the district started this school year.
The survey will be patterned after ones done in two similar-sized school districts that went to a four-day week, Bon Homme and Deuel, who canvassed their patrons after a year of operation.
“We will basically use the results to find out what people are thinking, and what changes we need to make to improve the system before the next year school,” he said. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Block will recommend that the district stay with a four-day school week for at least another year.
At prior meetings the board said it was prepared to stay with a four-day school week for at least two years to assure the system gets a fair trial.
The first two hours on Fridays are used for staff development and the next two hours for helping students needing assistance or those wanting to accelerate.
Distant sports events and/or double headers are limited to Fridays and Saturdays, and snow days are made up on Fridays when possible.
In two areas, Webster did not see immediate savings from the change to a four-day week. They looked at expanding the kindergarten and the guidance contract from 80 to 100 percent time so those staff (now four-day positions) can take part in professional development sessions on Fridays. Increasing these positions is projected to cost $8,600 each.
Also, because the board is in the middle of a busing contract, the district is likely to pay the same as it did for routes last year, about $367,000, but less fuel costs, which the board projects at around $9,000.
Willow Lake 12-3
Superintendent could not be reached for comment.
Schools on a traditional five-day-a-week schedule
The topic of a four-day week was discussed at some board meetings in 2010, but the district did not pursue it.
A four-day school week and possible changes in the school day were topics of conversation at a retreat held by the Britton-Hecla Board of Education in January.
Superintendent Kevin Coles organized the afternoon retreat to allow board members to have time to discuss school issues and to talk about plans for the future.
Thirty-eight of the 152 schools in South Dakota are currently on a four-day school week, and Coles said it is something that the Britton-Hecla District will be taking a look at.
“There have been some rumors going around that we are going to a four-day week next year, but we’re not planning to do that,” stressed Coles. “Right now the board is just interested in learning more, and we’ll be doing more research.”
Coles said that the board would also come up with a plan on what a four-day week would look like at Britton-Hecla, if it were implemented, so that faculty, students, and district patrons can give feedback on the idea.
“One of the first questions I’ve already heard is what would we do on Friday,” Coles noted. “That’s why we want to come up with something more concrete in the next couple of months so people will have a better idea of how a four-day week would work here. Then we will start visiting with the stakeholders.”
Talk about the four-day week also dovetails into the implementation of new core standards in the state’s schools and the possibility of altering the school day. Coles said that new core standards for each grade level are to be implemented in South Dakota schools for the 2014-15 school year.
South Dakota is one of 40 states that has adopted the core standards with the idea that students transferring to other state or out-of-state schools will be on the same page in course studies.
One of the problems that goes along with the implementation of something new is finding time for teacher training. That’s where Coles said a four-day week, or a tweaking of the school day, could be a positive.
“If we did have Fridays available for teacher time it would help that process. We may look at starting our day a little earlier or ending a little later that would allow us to take a Friday here or there for that training.”
The district is not looking into changing its schedule at this time. “If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” said Superintendent Bo Beck.
Faulkton Area 24-4
At the Faulkton Area Schools, the discussion of switching to a four-day school week first came up in late August just as school was beginning for the 2011-12 year. The board immediately sought more information about a four-day-a-week schedule and what the change would mean for the district. So they scheduled a public meeting about it.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, just following parent-teacher conferences, Deuel School District Superintendent Dean Christensen spoke to a crowd of educators, parents and students at the FHS gymnasium. Christensen spoke about his district’s switch over to a four-day schedule, giving an overview by example as to what a four-day schedule was like. As Christensen spoke it was clear that the crowd’s general feeling became more positive toward the idea of shifting to a locally created four-day-a-week schedule.
At the next school board meeting on Dec. 12, the school board discussed the public meeting. School Superintendent Joel Price brought to the board the survey he gave the school staff about the four-day a week program. Overall more than half the teachers and staff were either somewhat or very interested in the four day a week program.
With this and the other answers from the survey in mind, he drafted for the board what a possible schedule might look like for the school, noting that school days would have to be slightly longer to make the plan function — 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. would be the daily time frame.
As the board discussed the possibility of a four-day-a-week program, several board members were undecided. Chairwoman Heather Bode admitted that she had at first strongly supported the idea, but that now she was more on the fence on the issue, while board member Grady Heitmann said the opposite was true for him.
Supt. Price suggested that one of the major items that the four-day-a week-plan had going for it was the teacher education days. He said that district teachers were missing out on staff development and that if the board wished he could come up with an alternate schedule that incorporates those days into a traditional five-day-a-week schedule; students would simply have a day off each month while teachers would have an in-service day. He would draft this calendar and submit it to the board and school staff.
The board agreed but also directed Price to speak with the districts busing provider to see the effect a switch to a four-day school week would have on their mileage rates.
On Jan. 9, 2012 the school board followed up on that discussion. Price gave an alternative to the proposed four-day-a-week school plan, and presented a calendar to the board that included staff in-service days occurring once per month as well as longer planning periods for teacher preparations, but otherwise overall the school’s daily schedule would stay the same, without much change in length of days of the school’s year and without changing the daily time schedule.
Price outlined what the year’s schedule would look like, and the board was generally pleased with the result, and agreed that it was an acceptable substitution to the four-day-a-week plan.
Price said that he sent this plan to the staff at the same time he prepared it for the board so that at the next meeting he would have staff responses and reactions to it. The board seemed to be in general agreement that this would be the plan to try before they committed to the four-day-a-week change, though they wanted to get staff feedback before any decision.
The next scheduled board meeting for the Faulkton Area Schools is on Feb. 13, and they will discuss the issue again, and likely make a final decision at that meeting.
Groton Area 06-6
Laura K. Schuster, Superintendent:
We do not intend to go to the four-day school week for 2012-13. While there may be some merit to revisiting the issue, one of my main concerns at this point would be the necessity of having to lengthen the school day by 30-40 minutes. With the geographic size of our school district, this is a concern in regard to bus route pick-up and drop-off times. Over the past several years, our students have done very well academically on the state-wide assessments. At least at this point, I don’t want to try and fix something that is not broken.
Editor’s note: Groton’s school buses go as far north as Houghton, as far south as Conde, east one mile past Bristol and west one mile past Bath. There are seven bus routes, which some months cover more than 16,000 miles. The students on the bus for the longest have about an hour’s ride.
Ipswich Public 22-6
The district has discussed the possibility, but no change is imminent. “It doesn’t save the amount of money that you’d need to have it save to have fundamental change,” says Superintendent Trent Osbone.
Langford Area 45-5
The Langford Area Board of Education decided to take a closer look at the possibility of implementing a four-day week at its regular meeting in October, but at its January meeting the board decided to put any further discussion of moving to a four-day week on hold.
The board had considered doing a parent survey but there are no plans for that in the immediate future.
“We’re gathering information so that if down the road we decided the change would be a good move we’ve started to do some of the background work,” noted Nipp. “But we’ve decided there is no reason to move ahead at this time.”
In October, Nipp said that school wouldn’t make the decision strictly based on budgetary reasons.
“It does save some money, but it depends on how it is structured. What we’re looking at more closely is if it is a better way to deliver instruction. We’re looking at it closer because schools that have made the change think that it makes teachers better teachers and students better students.”
Nipp said other issues such as being able to retain employees and bus drivers were all important in making the final decision. The staff was surveyed and 12 of the 19 staff members indicated they would support the four-day week, five were against it, and two didn’t respond.
He said the obvious plus for the staff was planning time, especially considering the new common core standards that will be required in the 2014-2015 school year. Teachers’ biggest concern was loss of student contact time. Teachers would still have been in school 175 days but student days would have dropped from 172 to 155.
Did not reach superintendent for comment.
Northwestern Area 56-7
Ray Sauerwein, Superintendent:
Northwestern has done about the same as Redfield. We have looked into it more than once and continue to look at it, but we just can’t seem to fully endorse it enough to make the move. We, however, have not ruled it out altogether.
Randy Joyce, Superintendent:
We first did an analysis of the four-day school week in 2004. At that time, we brought in the superintendent from Custer, S.D., to present information in a public forum about the four-day school week. We chose to have him come because they had been in a four-day system at Custer for many years.
Following the public forum, we had extensive discussions with staff about the pros and cons of a four-day school week and determined that we would stay with the five-day week. A couple of years ago, we again discussed the four-day week but decided to stay with our current five-day week.
Since then, we haven’t had further discussion on going to a four-day week.
The district has discussed the option on the board and with staff, but not very seriously. “We all agree that it’s not good to reduce contact time with kids,” said Superintendent Kirk Easton, adding that the overall savings is not that significant. “It’s not for us at this time.”
Did not reach superintendent for comment.
Caption for photo at top: Deuel School District Superintendent Dean Christensen spoke to a crowd of educators, parents and students at the Faulkton High School gymnasium in November about his district’s experience in switching to a four-day week. Photo by Faulk County Record.