By Louis Hoglund
The four-day school week, and whether or not the shorter school week has an impact on academics and the statewide test scores, will be part of a continuing discussion by the Pelican Rapids School Board.
School officials conducted an annual survey of parents, staff and students earlier this year, as required by schools on four-day week schedules. The evaluation was approved by the school board in June, but board members and administrators wanted to wait until the statewide test scores were official to complete the review process.
The board discussed the school schedule and the test scores at a special work session Oct. 12. Discussion will continue at another worksession, November 14, 5:30 p.m., in the school board chambers.
Parents confirmed, through a survey, that 81 percent favored the four-day week, while 18 percent were opposed. Meanwhile, 77 percent of the teaching staff favored the four-day week. Support staff, including food service, clerical and custodial, favored the four-day week by an 89 percent margin.
Some teachers concerned about 4-day week and impact on English learners
Teaching staff in the Pelican Rapids elementary schools favor the four-day school week by a wide margin.
But there are dissenters.
Fifty one teachers favored the four-day week, while 15 were not in favor, and eight were neutral.
Impact on the English language learning population and the special education students topped the concerns with one fewer, structured days in their week. Pelican’s ethnic student population, exceeding 40 percent in many grades, includes many Hispanic and Somali students who may not speak English in their homes.
And they made their views known in verbal responses in the staff-wide survey.
Four-day week saved nearly $112,000 in 2016
Budget considerations were the primary reason for implementing the reduced schedule. At the time, the school’s operating revenue was steadily declining. Voters rejected three attempts to increase the levy, leading up to 2010. This resulted in a string of crippling budget cuts.
The schedule was expected to save about $100,000 a year–mostly in transportation costs. In the fiscal year ending June 2015, savings were about $102,414. For 2016, the four-day schedule is expected to show savings of about $111,500. In transportation costs alone, by running the bus fleet one day less per week, the savings were $61,465.
Other big savings areas were in wages and labor costs for support staff and custodians, which totaled about $27,000 last year. The savings are realized by reduced labor costs–because of one less day in session.
Academic improvement uneven, but generally up
Academic improvement has been less consistent under the four-day week–though the board and administration believe that Pelican’s lower results on the statewide tests are due to many factors.
At the elementary school, second graders showed academic progress at a rate of 24.2 percent last year–compered to under 10 percent over most of the past six years.
Progress is uneven grade to grade. Third graders showed only a 1 percent improvement last year; while fourth graders showed 15 percent improvement in reading.
English language learning, with an ethnic student body of about 40 percent–mostly Hispanic and Somali–are pointed to as a factor in inconsistent test scores.
High School Principal Brian Korf used A and B honor roll numbers as a benchmark for academic performance.
For most of the past seven years, the number of students earning spots on the A and B honor roll increased.
Overall, academic improvements have been recorded in both the elementary and high school–though generally not meeting the improvement rates targeted by the state.
Attendance, discipline improved with four-day
Attendance and disciplinary actions against students were one of the anticipated gains of the four-day week.
In the elementary school, attendance has been generally lower. compared to 2009, when there were 4,073 total absent days–there were only 3,379 last school year.
Discipline issues totalled 32 in the elementary school last year, compared to 144 in 2009.
Principal Ed Richardson noted that the “Seven Habits” initiative, which promotes positive outlooks and behaviors, have also been a factor in improving conduct at the elementary school. Discipline referrals have been below 50 for the past three years–compared to 144 in 2009.
High school attendance has seen a steady improvement for the past six years. In 2009, prior to the four-day schedule, there were 8,526 absent days. In 2015, there were only 3,086; and in 2016, the school year ended with 3,395 absent days.
Discipline issues have been cut in half. High school students tallied 1,826 discipline incidents in 2009. At the end of the 2016 school year, there were 923 discipline issues recorded.
Legislators expected at Dec. school bd. meeting
Meanwhile, this upcoming state legislative session will determine funding for Minnesota’s schools for the next two years. The board is planning to invite area elected legislators to the December meeting to review Pelican school district needs.
Mom, dad like four day week for the most part–but about 20 percent have reservations
Parents were overwhelmingly in favor of the four-day week, based on the annual survey–though the return on the surveys was light, with only about 120 parents responding.
A total of 81 percent favor the reduced week.
Some of parent comments in support of the four-day week:
• Child does not miss as much school
• Child is more rested
• More time for homework
• Child able to work more hours
• Able to visit relatives outside the area
• More relaxed family time
• The four-day week has saved money that can be put to use in other area.
On the “No” side, here are a few excerpted comments from parents who are skeptical of the four day week.
• Unrealistic. Workdays are five days a week. Kids need to learn that routine.
• Four-day week is really stressful.
• Children not retaining over a three-day weekend.
• If we really want the best for our kids and community, we need to lay down our comforts and pride and be brave enough to go back to five days.
• It makes me uncomfortable that our children’s school weeks are so distinguishable from other U.S. schools and schools around the world who have children who will compete with our children for future job opportunities.