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Utah school districts try four-day school week out

Article Date: 
11 October, 2013 (All day)

As the Morgan County School District takes time to investigate the pros and cons of the four-day school week, they may be able to learn from other Utah schools have tried it.
Currently there are nine Utah schools operating on the four-day school week.  This includes Tabiona School in the Duchesne School District, all four schools in the Tintic School District, and all four schools in the Rich School District.
Both Lake Powell School in the Kane School District and Boulder Elementary School in the Garfield School District used to be on the four-day school week but recently returned to the five-day week.
The Uintah School District considered the idea years ago, but didn’t make the switch.
In rural northeast Utah, Rich School District switched to a shortened schedule in 2006 and began saving $1,500 per week in gas and utilities.  The district also saw a decline in student absences.  
But money and attendance weren’t the main impetus for the change in Rich County.  For its 436 students in four schools in 2006, it was sports.
Traveling to and from athletic events, sometimes with entire families and other fans in tow, meant a lot of time away from school during the week.  Students were missing classes and coaches had to find substitutes.  Now, all sports events take place Thursday evenings, Fridays and Saturdays.  
“Our students are more rested, their homework completion rate has increased and there are less discipline problems,” states a teacher in the Rich County school system where the four-day school week has been in place for seven years.  With longer class periods, teachers can be more effective and student engagement is likely to improve.
Rich County resident JaNine Kurek said, “We have loved the four-day school week.”  Her family loves the increased time spent together as well as the opportunities to do their own educational family field trips. This gives parents the chance to put an emphasis on things that they believe are most important for their child to learn.
Other parents noted that they loved the opportunity to schedule doctor appointments or other personal needs on their extra day off.
Bob Park, principal at the k-12 Tabiona School with 156 students, said the biggest change he noticed going to a four-day week four years ago was attendance.
“The main reason for going to the four-day school week was just to keep students and teachers in class,” Park said.  ““With the big emphasis on test scores and being ready for post=high school education, we needed to do something to keep teachers and students in class.”
The year before switching to four-day weeks, the school’s head coach who coached a sport each season missed 29 school days.  After the switch, he missed just a half day for coaching activities.  A top athlete who also served as a student body officer may have as many as 45 school-excused absences, or a quarter of the entire school year.
Now, Fridays are used for travel to and participation in sport activities.  
“Teams are not excused from school during the week for games.  Many of our teachers are coaches, giving them the opportunity to teach classes for four days and then coach on the fifth day,” Park said.  “The biggest benefit I see is having four complete days of school without interruptions for ball games, and their teachers are in class also, no substitutes because a teacher is coaching a game.”
He said students are “more settled” and year-end test scores are improving.  Teachers are “happy because they have full classes every day and they do not have to re-teach a lesson because a team has been excused from school.”
At Tabiona School, students travel as long as one hour on bus one-way to begin class at 8:05 a.m. and let out at 3:34 p.m.  They do not hold school on Fridays.  They go to school 150 days each year, which means Tabiona students sometimes have to go to school on national holidays such as Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day.
After a survey of parents about the four-day school week, attending class during a national holiday was the only complaint, Park said.
The state asked Tabiona to hold class at least 145 days each year, but administrators chose 150 in an effort to keep the length of the school day from getting too long.  But Park hasn’t seen evidence that the days are exhausting students.
“Elementary students have done as well as the high school students,” he said.
But there were some drawbacks the school prepared for such as the loss of hours for bus drivers and lunch workers.
“We were able to work the bus drivers into aide positions in the school so that they did not lose any time.  The first time we went onto the four-day week, we instituted a school breakfast program so that the lunch room workers did not lose hours.  We just asked that they pick up some extra cleaning duties to keep their time the same,” Park said.  “My instruction from the school board was to manage the program so that no one lost time or money, but if I had to replace any of my staff they would be hired for just the four-day position and I would lose the extra service I was getting.”
Park said it took some time to get teachers used to longer class hours and keeping students on task.
Park advises other schools considering the schedule not to view Friday as a “day off.”  Often, after-hour team practices can make for long days.
“One parent made a comment that her student didn’t even have time for cartoons,” Park said.  “It takes work to make athletic schedules work so that school is not missed, but it is worth it.”
Besides keeping kids and teachers in class, the switch has saved the school some money as well.  Tabiona saved $7,205 in substitute expenses, $25,920 in fuel expenses, and some utility costs as well.
“I think the four-day week schedule is wonderful for a small rural school.  The biggest effect was students being more education-minded during the week and an increase in our overall test scores.  It has been very sound for us educationally,” Park said.  “It has worked for us.  We definitely plan to keep our four-day week.”