Administrators of school districts that have switched to a four-day school week say preparation is the key to a smooth transition.
In Utah, that preparation begins with paperwork with the Utah State Board of Education.
Before a school or district can officially operate on a four-day school week, the state board must grant the school a waiver. In the state of Utah, there is a mandatory 990 hours that children must be in school. There is also a mandatory 180 days, but school districts can choose to apply for a waiver of this requirement as long as they complete the mandatory hours.
“The board generally keeps the focus on what works best for students when considering requests,” said Mark Peterson, public relations director with the Utah State Office of Education, in an email. “They will ask a district or charter to supply lots of data on instruction time, student academic progress, absentee rates, etc. and will want follow-up on how well students were performing under five-day weeks and what happened to performance following the switch.”
States such as Georgia, Oklahoma and Maine have changed their laws in recent years to allow schools to calculate instruction time purely by hours instead of days.
In 2009, Utah Board of Education members warned Utahns that their case must be strong to get an official waiver. They went as far as saying circumstances must be “extenuating.”
In the Oakridge School District in Oregon, the switch was a smooth one mostly because of the preparation of district administrators in advance. The school board took a year educating their community in public meetings about the four-day school week and presented solutions for any potential problems, according to a 2012 editorial in Crosscut newspaper written by their superintendent.
For example, the district paid for all high school students to become certified by the Red Cross in first aid and as babysitters as well as made an effort to pair families in need of child care with the trained students. They offered extra work to classified employees, putting them higher on the priority lists when extra hands were needed for games, dances and other school events to try to make up for the hours they would lose on the new schedule.
“There are negative attributes that need to have alleviation strategies in place prior to implementation,” Oakridge Superintendent Don Kordosky said in the editorial. “Don’t let nostalgia for an antiquated tradition cloud your mind. Plan for the negative attributes, maximize the positive attributes, and make sure that the community is thoroughly involved in the implementation process. The best way to ensure the failure of the implementation of the four-day week is to ‘do it to the community,’ instead of ‘doing it with the community.’”
School officials familiar with the four-day week say it is easier to “sell” the idea as a financial necessity than as an academic option. In that vein, school officials who have switched to a shorter week advise those preparing to do so to identify exactly where the savings will be realized and subsequently spent. If the money crunching can accomplish something important for the district, the new schedule is more likely to gain supporters.