Box Elder School District held a public forum Monday night to answer questions and gather input on the possibility of moving to a four-day school week, though most of the meeting was spent explaining how far from a final decision the district is and how conflicted everyone is on the subject.
Box Elder Elementary School Principal Mark Irvin headed the hearing with a panel of board members and faculty, addressing a few dozen attendees, mostly parents, grandparents and more faculty.
Irvin said that the district is still very early on in this discussion, saying it could very possibly still be weighing options a year from now. There is no rush.
He went over a list of pros and cons, as compiled in an Office of Public Instruction survey from last year and from talks with administration in Montana and other states.
Later in the meeting, Irvin called into question the study, which he said was mostly positive, almost too much so.
“A lot of people favor it when they see the data. It’s mostly positive, ” Irvin said. “We want to dig into that and check how deep the water is before we dive in. ”
One of the benefits frequently reported in the studies is that attendance improved overall in the district after the change.
Box Elder Superintendent Robert Heppner said attendance is a problem for the district. Just that day, 27 percent of students and staff were absent.
“You think that it costs $100 for a sub(stitute teacher) and that gets expensive, ” Heppner said.
Some of these districts, Heppner said, have seen attendance rates of 97 percent after the change.
Box Elder High School’s girls basketball coach Joel Rosette began the public comment by saying that Box Elder schools do have many problems, but he doesn’t think this a solution to them.
“This is another Band-Aid, ” Rosette said. “What we need to do is not just make them successful on tests, but at life. It seems like we’re just trying to push them out the door.
“I don’t want them rubber-stamped. ”
The most frequent speaker from the crowd was Alvin Windy Boy from Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, which covers half the district.
At the beginning of the meeting, he said he approached the concept undecided. He recognized the potential burden of the plan in requiring him to find day care for that extra, day but he said he would also appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with his kids on that day and teach them things they don’t learn in school, like the tribal Cree traditions he fights for on the reservation a preservation officer.
By the end of the meeting he had started leaning away from the idea.
After learning the decision would not lead to any real financial gain, Windy Boy said that most of the districts making the change were getting smaller. Box Elder is getting bigger.
He said he had talked to a statistician that had come to Rocky Boy who told him that, looking at past growth trends, Rocky Boy would be the second-most populous reservation in Montana by 2017.
“If we’re not prepared for these kids in the next four or five years, then we’ve got a social problem, ” Windy Boy said.
Following Monday’s meeting, the district plans to continue studying the subject, with more community surveys and hearing while also gathering more input from students, faculty and other districts across the state and country.