Havre Public Schools four day week well received so far
Last updated 11/15/2023 at 12:41pm
During a meeting of the Havre Public Schools Board of Trustees Tuesday evening, district principals gave reports on their buildings and how they've handled the new four day week schedule, and the feedback from teachers, students and parents appears to be largely positive.
The schedule, adopted by the board earlier this year, extends class periods and the school day overall while eliminating mandatory attendance on Friday, a schedule that was supported by teachers who said it would allow them to be more flexible, improve student performance and boost morale.
Under the new model the school has implemented "Support Fridays" an optional school day held twice a month where students can come to learn and get more individualized assistance, and while some principals said the first few Support Fridays were sparsely attended, participation improved drastically soon after.
Highland Park Early Primary School Principal Hayley Criner said they were a little worried to see how few students showed up on the first support Friday, but by the end of the first quarter attendance was at almost half.
She said they've been able to use this new schedule to do more targeted learning intervention and Indian Education for All activities and it seems to be going very well.
She said staff have been flexible and committed to making the new schedule work and they are pulling it off very well.
Lincoln-McKinley Primary School Principal Holly Bitz said much the same, with Support Friday attendance at 45 percent participation, things seem to be going well.
As for teachers, she said, the flexibility this schedule offers them is being well-used, and she sees a significant boost in the efficiency of the school's educators.
On non-Support Fridays, she said, the school parking lot is still almost full with teachers using the time they've gained to get work done and plan.
Sunnyside Intermediate School Principal Pax Haslem said their Support Friday attendance is at about half as well, allowing teachers to cater to an average class size of 11, which allows for more individualized assistance.
Haslem said even when a substantial number of staff members were at important training about mental health during one of those Fridays, the flexibility of the schedule was such that they could easily handle all of the students well.
Havre Middle School Principal Curt Leeds said their attendance for Support Fridays started low but has since risen significantly, to 33 percent at its peak, and that time has been used to evaluate the individual needs of students and provide support in the most vital areas.
Leeds said he did a survey of teachers to get their thoughts on the new schedule and there have been a lot of benefits.
He said students participating in sports are no longer missing substantial amounts of class time due to attending Friday games, and teachers, in addition to having more time to spend with their own families, have been able to get more done.
He said Support Fridays have given them a chance to help students catch up when they are behind, and, because Support Friday classes at the school are randomized in their makeup, teachers have said they can connect with more students then they normally would, and behavioral issues on those days have been minimal.
Leeds said teachers have also noticed an increase in overall performance of students, with many motivated to do more during the four days so they don't have to attend Support Fridays when they don't want to.
He said on non-Support Fridays teachers have been able to come into school and work uninterrupted which allows them to get a significant jump on things they need to do, and gives them the flexibility to better plan breaks or work a second job.
The change hasn't been without a few downsides and complications however, he said.
Leeds said the longer days can result in teachers getting pretty tired by the end of Thursday, but that seems to be balanced out by having a three day break and teachers who end the week tired still start Monday full of energy.
He said a side effect of lengthening the school day, is that an absence means more content missed than it did under the previous schedule.
Unfortunately, he said, he's also heard from some teachers that the students in the most dire need of assistance aren't usually attending Support Fridays and they feel that they need to place these Support Fridays more strategically throughout the year.
These observations were echoed by Havre High School Principal Dustin Kraske, who also surveyed teachers, many of whom said they are hoping that they can make the placement of Support Fridays a bit more effective in the years to come.
Kraske also said that the schedule hasn't done much to improve the attendance of chronically absent students.
However, there was far more positive feedback than negative in the survey.
Kraske said many suspected the high school would have the lowest Support Friday attendance, but they've had much-higher participation than those fears would have suggested.
He said students are largely free to self-direct when it comes to how they use their Support Fridays, and most of them are doing so effectively.
He said teachers report feeling better rested, having more time for administrative tasks, to prepare lessons and plan with colleagues, and the longer class periods are giving them a better chance to connect with students, answer questions and give feedback.
He said teachers have observed an overall improvement in student concentration and learning and teachers seem much less burnt out, having more time to spend with their own families.
During his report, Kraske also said the school has also seen a considerable bump in attendance since the pandemic.
Every other principal reported similar increases rising in percent from high 80s to low to mid 90s, which is a considerable difference for student attendance.
Principals also reported high attendance among staff, including on Support Fridays.
During the meeting, Havre Public School Superintendent Brian Gum also presented a survey sent to parents asking them about their observations about the new schedule.
Of the respondents around 80 percent said the new schedule has either had a positive impact on their child's education or hasn't had an effect so far, with about 20 percent reporting a negative impact.
Of the total respondents about 10 percent said the schedule had created transportation issues for them, and 90 percent said there had been no issues.
Around 75 percent reported their children participating in support Fridays.
When asked if they felt the new schedule was a benefit to their child 70 percent said yes and 30 percent said no.
The four-day week was also addressed by Havre High School Student Body President Trayden Riley, who said the schedule was a big adjustment for him personally, but that was expected and the benefits for the students he's seen have been obvious.
Riley said he and his fellow students are not missing classes to go to games, have more time to do homework and rest, which is a huge help.
Gum said there are things about the schedule that he feels can be improved including the placement of Support Fridays as pointed out by teachers, but he thinks if they want to study the effects of the schedule comprehensively they need to stick with it for at least two or three years, to make sure their sample is representative.
During the meeting the board also adopted their strategic plan for the district, which lays out goals for the next 15 years for the schools and provides guidance on how to reach those.
Gum said the plan was developed in a series of meetings between teachers, administrators, parents and the Montana School Boards Association more than a year ago.
He said some of the appendices of the plan are unfinished but they need to approve the plan for accreditation purposes, and they can fill in the unfinished sections next spring.
He said the plan will also be automatically reviewed annually.
Board member Kevin Johnson said the plan was largely created before his time on the board, but he can see that some of the goals have already been achieved, which is excellent.
Johnson said much work remains to reach some of the longer-term goals but the document is clearly helping them already.
The plan was approved unanimously.
During the meeting, this month's Pony Pride Award was presented to Lincoln-McKinley Primary School teacher Jane Leinwand by last month's recipient, Havre High School Attendance Secretary Kaci Hipple.
Hipple said the award is meant for people who have made an outstanding impact on the lives of students, and she's seen that impact first hand with her own child.
"You not only improved my child's academic abilities but you also instilled valuable knowledge and life lessons that will serve as a foundation for his future," she said.
She said Leinwand has established a connection of love with her students and of trust with their parents and she is proud to hand her this award.
During the meeting the board was also addressed by Havre Public Schools Facilities and Transportation Director Scott Filius who said he's received a number of positive comments from people recently that he wants to pass on to the board.
Filius said the district lent use of some of its facilities to Chinook when a storm damaged the gymnasium of one of their schools his past year and they extended their heartfelt appreciation to the district.
He said he's also received a number of positive public comments on the newly resurfaced Havre Middle School Track, with many expressing appreciation for the project and making use of it.
He said it's sometimes easy to get caught up in negative feedback so he wanted to share something positive to the board.