The growing support for a four-day school week is creeping closer to Havre, as Box Elder School District plans to discuss possibly adopting the policy.
According to Box Elder School Superintendent Robert Heppner, the district has sent out a survey and has scheduled a public forum for Monday, from 5:30 to 7 p. m., to hear what district residents think.
“We’re just looking at a way to improve our attendance rate for the staff and for the kids, ” Heppner said.
“Other schools have been doing it and got some positive results. ”
In 2005, then state Sen. Jeff Mangan, D-Great Falls, introduced Senate Bill 170, which, after passing 93-6, changed school time requirements from 180 days to a “minimum aggregate hours” that vary depending on grade level, so schools could teach fewer, but longer, school days.
In the new rules, half-time kindergartners need 360 hours of education, while full-time kindergartners need 720 hours, the same as grades one through three. From fourth grade until graduation, the new rule requires students receive 1,080 hours of schooling a year.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction conducted a study in October, of how the change had gone in the 32 districts which had moved to four-day instruction since the bill passed. In between the study being conducted and published, “15 new districts joined the ranks of our four-day schools, ” the study says.
The current closest district is Bear Paw Elementary School in Blaine County, south of Chinook.
The study sent surveys out to the schools, asking about why the change was made and what effects it had.
The largest of the districts was in Arlee, with 402 students. The smallest has two.
The most popular reasons for the move is “a decrease in absenteeism to maximize instruction effectiveness and improve test scores. ” Other reasons included cutting travel time and fuel costs, and “rural districts’ families desired a Friday ‘go-to-town day’ for medical appointments and for ranch and farm-related business and competitions. ”
Looking back, 20 of the 32 districts said they “noted dramatic improvement in attendance and discipline. ” Fifteen said the savings were substantial enough to mention. And 10 said the free Fridays were great both as a buffer for snow day scheduling and for teacher preparation time “for curriculum work, collaboration, school visitations. ”
More than half said “that students and teachers are better rested and more enthusiastic. ”
The main concerns about the changes, before they happened, were about school days being too long and negative impacts on “academic performance and retention rates, ” while some parents worried about day care on the remaining day.
After the change, according to the study, those concerns did not “come to be realized, ” for the most part. Three districts said they still had a parent or two needing day care. One district said “some parents think the teachers are lazy, ” while another heard parent complaints “about too much homework. ”
At the end the study declares the experiment, for the districts they talked to, a success.
“Although schools changing to a four-day school week have experienced cost savings, they realize that student achievement and other benefits can outweigh the benefits of saving money, ” the OPI study says. “Schools have experienced a significant decline in absenteeism and disciplinary issues, an improvement in student and staff morale, and rising achievement scores. Almost every school feels the four-day school week fits its community like a glove and benefits everyone. Most would hate to return to the five-day week. ”
Box Elder School District residents on Monday at 5:30 p. m will discuss moving to a four-day school week;
The Montana Office of Public Instruction asked 32 districts about their experience with four-day week:
• 19 districts wanted better attendance and “instruction effectiveness, ” then 20 districts reported seeing it.
• 16 districts, half of those asked, said students and teachers were now “better rested and more enthusiastic. ”
• All 32 districts said they like the change. “A few districts” liked it “once they adjusted, ” while four “reported a small number of parents and students continue to oppose the plan for various reasons. ”