By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily
In a rural state, four-day school weeks can be both beneficial and challenging for parents and students alike.
Wyoming school districts have experimented with alternate schedules for the last decade and possibly longer, said Julie Magee, director of the Wyoming Department of Education’s Division of Accountability.
In most cases, the alternate schedules are requested by school districts to benefit students active in after-school activities such as sports, Magee said, adding the schedules could reduce education costs in some cases.
Not all Wyoming’s school districts, however, believe the benefit is worth the risk of negatively affecting underprivileged students, some of whom experience food insecurity when school is not in session. Richard Patterson, interim superintendent for Goshen County School District No. 1, said his school board recently voted against moving to a four-day school week.
“They’ve been looking at this for about two years,” Patterson explained. “What drove it initially was to make sure teachers had more time in the classroom.”
Students in activities often missed class on Fridays as they traveled across the state to participate in events. Longer days Monday through Thursday could prevent those students from missing valuable class time.
When the suggestion was opened to public comment, however, residents and staff voiced several concerns, Patterson said.
“Child care was a big issue, there’s a shortage of childcare universally, but certainly, we deal with it in Torrington,” he explained. “The other concern I heard is with some of these kids, the home environment may not be as stable or as nurturing as we would like, so the school provides a place of structure and nutritious, balanced meals five days a week.”
While GCSD No. 1 does have slightly longer school days Monday through Thursday and a half-day on alternating Fridays, Magee said the Department of Education does not classify the schedule as alternate, because the department clocks half days the same as whole days.
Sixteen of Wyoming’s school districts currently have an alternate schedule in place, including Crook County School District No. 1, according to Department of Education documents.
With three communities and five schools in the district, CCSD No. 1 Superintendent Mark Broderson said the alternate schedule received overwhelming support from staff, parents and students.
“It’s one of those topics that comes up every year, and we’ve tried an alternate calendar in the past,” Broderson said. “There was a lot of days (during the five-day week schedule) we didn’t feel we were getting the most bang for our buck.”
The school district distributed a survey on which at least one question directly addressed a shorter week, he said. Staff, students and parents were polled, and nearly all the survey results were pro-change.
“The staff and faculty responses came back 115 yeses and 7 nos,” Broderson said. “The other surveys were pretty much the same.”
Before suggesting the schedule to the CCSD No. 1 Board of Trustees, the superintendent said he delved into research.
“There’s only two schools in recent history who’ve gone to a four-day week, then back to a five,” Broderson said. “Neither one of them was based on academic reasons.”
The data he discovered did not provide evidence shorter weeks improved test scores consistently, he said, but attendance improved across the board.
“For some schools, there was a honeymoon period where test scores improved, but most of those leveled out after five years or so,” Broderson said.
Additionally, the school district sent faculty to nearby school districts with alternate schedules to study how best to implement the change. The CCSD No. 1 Board approved the schedule change in Spring 2018.
“Now, we can get all the teachers in the same room talking the same language on the same day,” Broderson said.
To compensate for the lost day, CCSD No. 1 increased the school day Monday through Thursday by about 40 minutes. One Friday a month is also dedicated to intervention and enrichment, allowing students an opportunity to spend time with teachers one-on-one if they are struggling.
“(Intervention and enrichment) days are about making sure kids can get help if they need,” Broderson explained, “and providing kids with things they like to do, because we feel having a healthy culture is also important.”
Wyoming’s school districts will likely continue to experiment with alternate schedules in the foreseeable future, working out what works best for them on a case-to-case basis, Magee said.
“I think the trends show we’ll probably see the same number of (alternate schedule) requests, but it’s hard to say,” she said. “I don’t have any data pointing to an influx or a decrease in requests we might receive in the next few years.”