by PJ Rooks
North Platte School District will send surveys out to parents this week to gather opinions on the possibility of moving to a four-day school week.
“I wouldn't say the board is saying, ‘Yes, we want to do this,’ or, ‘No, we don't want to do this.’ I think we're in that fact-gathering stage of getting information and trying to look at alternative ways of saving the district some money,” said Superintendent Jeff Sumy.
Sumy said that in the current economy, it might be useful to explore the possibility but added that he is worried that the fiscal savings of such a move may come at an educational cost to students
“A concern that I have is the rigor,” he said. “If you take away a day of repetition, that could have an impact on students’ retention and retaining the materials.”
With a four-day week, Sumy said that child care could also pose a possible disadvantage for parents but added that he didn’t want to just dismiss the idea either.
“Openly I would say that I'm not a proponent of breaking from tradition on a five-day school week but feel like part of my job is to research opportunities,” he said. “It's going to be hard to break away from that but if it’s something that the community feels would benefit all, then that's something I think we should consider and look into.”
Signed into law in July, 2009, Missouri Revised Statute 171.029 allows school districts to implement a four-day rather than a five-day school week and allows for a minimum term of 142 school days instead of the five-day requirement of 174 days. In either calendar, however, the statutes require a minimum of 1044 hours of student attendance.
A few schools in Missouri have moved to the four-day schedule including Orearville R-IV, Harrisburg R-VIII, Montgomery County R-II and Lathrop R-II, according to a recent survey conducted by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Looking to Lathrop, Sumy said that possible advantages of the four-day week could include savings on energy, phone and water usage, bussing, and food service, but said that he would expect the largest savings to be drawn from the district’s payroll.
While the teachers’ contracts would mostly be reworked to adjust number of work days into number of hours and minutes, Sumy said larger savings in personnel would likely be related to reductions in the need for food service workers, custodians, secretaries, administrators and para-educators.
Sumy said that it is still too early in the process to have an estimate of the potential savings.
At the end of its first year of the four-day school week, the Lathrop R-2 district tallied related savings at a total of $134,475 (1.5% of total expenditures) including $101,749 in salaries, $4,729 in costs for substitute teachers, $3,733 in food service costs, $17,879 in bus and fuel costs and $6,385 in operations and maintenance expenses.
Located about 26 miles east of Dearborn and with at 2011-12 student enrollment of 873, the Lathrop school board voted in May, 2010 to adopt the four-day schedule and implemented the change the following fall.
The district chose to exclude Mondays from the school week and, according to a PowerPoint presentation available from the district’s Web site (lathrop.schooldesk.net), students in all schools attended for about one hour longer each day.
A Distinction in Performance district for the fourth year in a row now, the district showed mostly positive academic results, including improved attendance for both students and staff, higher composite ACT scores and slightly improved grades at the high school and middle school levels.
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards were met for the high school, but the district’s PowerPoint describes AYP numbers for the elementary and middle schools as “not good.”
The district has conducted several follow-up surveys of stakeholders. In its “End of 2010-11 Survey,” 55% of parents/guardians reported that they were “very supportive” of the district’s four-day school week and 48% said they believed the four-day school week had a positive effect on their student’s academics.
Just over 14%, meanwhile, reported believing that the academic impact had been negative and 29.5% reported no change.
Over three quarters reported that their students liked the new four-day schedule and, in an Oct. 24, 2011 survey of both students and parents during parent-teacher conferences, about 66% of the kids surveyed voted for a four-day week instead of the five.
Parent survey information in the North Platte district, Sumy said, will be sent home in students’ backpacks this week as the survey goes live at the district’s Web site (www.nppanthers.org).