Small school district goes to four-day week to cope with budget cuts
By Greg Randall
There has been a lot of talk in The Daily Sentinel about how to improve education in the face of looming budget cuts, but little of it has focused on small schools.
Our school district, Plateau Valley School District No. 50, went to a four-day week this year as a money-saving effort. There is not the amount of money to be saved by going to a four-day week that some people believe, but there is a significant amount to be saved.
We did a great deal of research before heading in this direction and found that there is no significant research showing a four-day week improves education, but there is also no research showing it harms a student’s education.
State law requires schools to have a minimum number of student contact hours and we are well above the minimum amount of “learning time,” measured in hours by the state of Colorado. In the high school, we have over three days more than the minimum requirement and in the elementary school we have almost 15 days over the minimum. I would venture a guess that this is well above most schools in the state.
Another way our school is trying not to lose time with our four-day week is scheduling all of our extracurricular events, such as athletics, on Fridays and Saturdays when we don’t have school. Because of this, students involved in extracurricular activities do not miss school, and less educational time is lost.
With a four-day school week, there is a burden on working parents, but I will argue this is the same burden put on them for 2 1/2 months during the summer. We have tried to address this issue by making sure our high school students, who sometimes babysit children of working parents, have the same days off as elementary students. All of our students, preschool through 12th grade, have the same school calendar, which is how we also get almost 15 more learning days above the state minimum requirement for elementary school students.
With our four-day week, we offer many voluntary half-day Friday school opportunities, so students who are struggling can get extra help and students who want to expand their learning have the opportunity to work in a one-on-one environment with teachers. On Friday school days, we also offer professional development in the afternoon for our teachers, something all schools struggle finding time for in the calendar. This helps our teachers be students of their profession and keep up to date with new standards, assessments and other topics, not to mention staying highly qualified in their areas of expertise.
During the process of deciding to go to a four-day week we also found research indicating many students have a difficult time retaining information over a long summer. We were unable to find any information about a student not being able to retain information for three-day weekends, but I do worry about a student’s ability to retain information for nearly three months during the summer.
I would really like to find a way to add weeks to the school year so the summer is shorter. I have lived and worked in a school system in Norway, where they attend school well into our summer. Actually, I know teachers who teach in the state of New York and are in school through the end of June.
I would love to add weeks of school because we see many of our students lose one to two years of schooling during the summer months, some even more. If there were a shorter summer break, I would hope this regression would be less.
I would really like to see year-round school, with 10-week quarters and three weeks off between quarters, but I feel this would not work in most of our communities because of tradition in our systems.
This would add at least four weeks of school time. But that raises another problem with this idea: funding for additional weeks. It would add approximately 9 percent more time and therefore would cost close to 9 percent more to fund. If I put that in dollars for our $3.6 million budget, it would cost approximately $331,448 to fund four extra weeks. This estimate may be a little on the high side, but it is close. It is extremely wishful considering the state has cut our budget over $500,000 in the last two years.
In our little district, we also find ways to help students obtain college credit and/or advanced placement classes. Smaller staffs make this difficult in small districts, but we find ways to get students a great education. Our district heavily utilizes online distance-learning classes to increase our course selection to include these advanced classes, as well as other classes.
Many experts agree that today’s students will use as-of-yet-undreamt-of technologies every day in the workforce. We believe our online classes give students the experience to deal with new technologies.
We are in a far from perfect system, but considering all the budget cuts, we are trying to offer our students the best education possible.
Greg Randall is the superintendent of schools at Plateau Valley School District No. 50. It operates Plateau Valley School, a K-12 complex, west of Collbran.