By Amanda Fanger, Reporter and Farmer
At the regular monthly meeting of the Webster Area School Board on Feb. 11, a discussion was held about the four-day week.
Superintendent Jim Block put together a chart of South Dakota schools who are four-day and listed their calendar hours. Of the 38 schools in the state, Webster Area is listed as 31st for the amount of instruction time spent with students.
State law requires a school to have 962.5 instructional hours per school year. Webster Area is getting in a total of 430 minutes a day over the course of 156 days for a total hour count of 1,118. While this number is 155.5 hours more than is required by law, it is below the average of 1,145.8 hours in the state. The top four-day school in the state is currently clocking 1,216.3 hours a year, more than 253 hours than is required by law.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know if this makes a hill of beans,” Block said at one point during the meeting. “It all comes down to if you want to add more instruction time.”
Board member Tom Sannes posed the question to fellow board members, “(Are we) willing, as a staff, to drop our student contact time down to the bottom 85-90 percentile in the state?” He added, “If you look across the nation, the movement is not towards less contact time…I’m okay with four-day. I just have a concern with going from five days to four days, and not just four days, but four short days. (To me) that’s too big of a risk. We can’t get those hours back. I’d rather play it safe than sorry.”
Board member Randy Ryan pointed out that the numbers Block presented didn’t include the hours of the Friday Student Service program.
Board members discussed the possibility of increasing the hours at the Friday program, but, according to Sannes, all teachers have said if the Friday hours are increased beyond a three-hour period, they might as well go to five-day. Currently, the program is running from 10 a.m. to noon.
A survey of Webster Area teachers showed an overwhelming number of teachers preferred the Webster Area school calendar stay the same.
“I would still like to see more instruction time,” said board member Kathy Meland.
Block presented three alternative suggestions to the board for increasing time to the calendar school year.
The first suggestion was to add four more regular days to the school calendar, which would add 23.3 hours a year, taking Webster Area up the scale of four-day schools, between the number 22 and 23 schools.
Another suggestion was to add 20 minutes each day to the current number of calendar school days, which would add 52 hours a year and move Webster Area to tie for eighth with Deuel.
The third suggestion was to add 20 minutes each day and add four more days for a total of 160 days; that would add 53.3 hours a year, moving Webster to between Deuel and the number seven school, Parker.
Ken Wright said that during all of the debating that has been going on about four-day school, the only statistics he’s heard about improvements in the students are that the average students are improving.
“The kids who are excelling are the same and the kids who are struggling are still struggling,” he said. “But at least there’s improvement (in the middle group).”
He went on to comment to the school board, “On comparing schools to schools, I would caution you. It’s apples to oranges to pears to pineapples… I’m not saying you don’t need to continue to challenge yourself, but you need to compare us to us and look at what’s going through (our) hallways – not the hallways of Deuel, not the hallways of Parker.”
“I agree that we should compare us to us,” Sannes said. “I think we have great teachers (here)…the more time (our students) spend with our teachers the better they do.”
Other areas concerning increasing the length of the school day included various issues with school bus routes. Currently, the earliest a student gets on the bus is at 6:50 a.m.
The board will make a decision regarding four-day weeks at next month’s meeting on March 11 at 7 p.m.