By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – those are the times that families expect their kids to be in school. The times that teachers expect to be in front of their classrooms.
But the “traditional” view of school days and times is changing – even in Wyoming.
Right now, according to the Wyoming Department of Education, 26 school districts in the state have moved to a four-day school week to meet the changing needs of students and staff.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said the benefits of a four-day week vary from school district to school district.
“For students, it gives them sometimes longer class periods during the four-day week where they can work more with teachers and interact with their peers,” she said, adding that Fridays are often utilized for intervention or enrichment activities for students.
“We see this a lot in our smaller school districts,” she said, pointing to her own experience as a teacher in the tiny town of Hulett in northeast Wyoming.
“I can tell you that there are lots of Fridays that because of sports, there may be 50% to 60% of the school gone for the better part of the day – so a four day school week also allows for a school district to make some some decisions about making sure kids are in school for those four days, and then activities are on Friday,” she said.
Balow noted the shift can sometimes be based on financial issues.
“Financial gains or losses really need to be analyzed and realized at the local level,” she said. “In some cases, it might be a financial gain to have a four-day week. And in some cases, it might cost a little bit more, just depending on how it how it is worked.”
But she added that no matter the school’s decision, the one thing that must remain unchanged is the number of hours the students are in the classroom.
“Whether they do it within four days or five days, the student contact hours are the very same,” she said. “And they have to assure the state Legislature and my department and the State Board of Education that they are meeting those those contact hours for students.”
Jimmy Phelps is the superintendent for Washakie County School District No. 2 in Ten Sleep. Currently, the school operates on a schedule of four full days of classes with an alternating early release schedule on Fridays.
This spring, the school board was contemplating making a move to a four-day school week. But ultimately, he said, there wasn’t enough support for the measure to pass.
“I set up a task force that had 16 members,” he explained. “It included staff members, parents, stakeholders, and we looked at various aspects of it. We talked to members of other districts, and then we put out a survey to our stakeholders, and we had a very good response number from those.”
Responses to the survey in support of the measure included the idea that a four-day week promotes better mental and emotional health for students; opposition to the proposal stemmed in part from the fact the change would force parents to rework their schedules. In addition, some respondents saw no problem with the current schedule.
Additionally, respondents noted that the school has more pressing issues to consider right now than a change to the weekly schedule.
In the end, Phelps said, there wasn’t enough support for the board to approve the change.
“There were more that had a definite yes, than definitely no, but there still wasn’t more than 50%,” he said. “So this task force felt like there wasn’t enough community support to recommend to the board a four-day week, for next year.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Niobrara County. George Mirich, the superintendent for the school district there, said the district moved to a four-day school week in 2019 for a number of reasons.
“One, we needed more time for professional development,” he explained. “And we needed to curtail our time out of classroom activities – between all of our activities, the low number of students and the high number of teachers involved in these activities as far as sponsors and coaches and such, we were missing school multiple times in the same week.”
Mirich said about 300 students attend school in the district, and on any given day, 30 students could be missing class to take part in any number of activities.
“And Fridays, a lot of times, we’d be missing half our kids and most of our teachers,” he adds.
So it’s worked out well for the schools in Lusk, according to Mirich.
But for Ten Sleep, the issue is now moot.
At a meeting that was held March 8, Phelps said the school board for Washakie County School District No. 2 closed down the discussion about moving to a four day week.
“It doesn’t mean it may not ever come up again, but there was nothing in the motion that the board approved about considering this in the future,” he said.