East Sac schools consider 4-day week



SAC CITY – School officials presented a proposal for a four-day school week Monday.

Superintendent Kevin Fiene and a calendar committee consisting of eight teachers from throughout the district presented their findings during an open forum at the East Sac Middle School. They said having a four-day week instead of five could help both students and staff make better use of their time.

Under the new calendar, students would no longer get late starts or early dismissals due to teacher inservices or professional development. Instead professional development would be held on the day there was no school. Students would still get the same number of hours per year by lengthening the school day.

This is possible because of recent educational reform, Fiene said. Instead of requiring 180 teaching days in a school year, with a day defined as 5.5 hours, schools can now measure their time in hours. The requirement is then 1,080 instructional hours in a year.

Teacher Kerri Eichhorn explained the basic points of the plan.

School days are currently 8:20 a.m to 3:20 p.m.; under the new plan they would be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There would be 143 full instructional days, instead of 153, and teachers would use Mondays for professional development.

There would be a total of 1,102.5 instructional hours, instead of 1,109 currently. But the current calendar has eight days with early dismissal, 17 days with two-hour late starts, and four professional development days built into the calendar. The new schedule would allow for more uninterrupted weeks of instruction.

“This would cause less instructional time lost, and provide a more consistent schedule,” Eichhorn said. “It may surprise you that this is something that’s very frustrating for staff throughout the entire district.”

This is just a proposal, said Fiene, and the details are still being ironed out.

Fiene said several rumors about the plan are not true. For one thing, he said, this was not proposed because it will save money.

“That is third or fourth down on the list,” he said. “This would save us money, but I couldn’t tell you how much, because we have not even focused on this.”

The district “is not in dire straits,” he said later in answer to a question. Studies do consistently show financial improvement with this schedule, he said, but that was not the purpose.

The calendar committee was only assembled to examine the idea and work out if it would work, not to make decisions.

“This isn’t some secret committee,” he said. “All decisions are made by the school board in open session.”

Parent surveys have not been sent out yet because the committee just wasn’t to that point yet, he said; they were still working on whether this was good for the students or not.

The idea will be brought before the board in February, because state law requires the district’s schedule to be set by March.

It’s not a new concept.

“The four-day week has been around in various places since 1933, and it’s in use in 20 different states, including Iowa,” Fiene said.

The district has also been in contact with the Waco school in southern Iowa, which uses a four-day schedule.

About 70 people attended the forum, and several asked questions. Some voiced concerns while others were in favor of the idea.

Crystal Hanrahan said she moved to the area from South Dakota, where their school district had a four-day week.

“It worked tremendously well for my children,” she said.

Hanrahan and others asked whether teachers would be available before or after school for kids who needed extra help. The panel said that something would be worked out. In addition, the Waco school has a “plus-one” day where kids can come in during the fifth day for more assistance, and Sac might consider doing that once they see how the new schedule works out.

Stephanie Bellcock said she was concerned about students’ attention spans, especially the younger children, and she wondered if this idea had really been tested.

“This theory is not studied from a longevity standpoint on how it affects total student achievement, how it affects graduation or even college achievement, which is the district’s overall goal,” Bellcock said. “Why are we considering something that doesn’t have the evidence-based research behind it?”

Teacher Diane Schroeder, a member of the calendar board, said she had those same concerns, but that activities could be structured so that the prime study time could be in the morning when the elementary students are freshest.

Fiene said some studies have shown an increase in academic performance, while others have held steady; no study shows performance suffering from a four-day week. However, he added, there have not been a lot of studies done, and the results cannot be called conclusive.

The need to make time for sports, band and choir without missing academic time will also be considered, the committee said.

Dallas Pullen, fourth-grade teacher at Sac City, spoke in favor of the proposal Monday.”I will be a better teacher if I don’t have to worry about leaving right at 3:40 to go to three more meetings, or spend two days a week after school meeting with another committee about what makes teaching better,” she said.

That fifth day to focus on papers, reports and meetings will allow her to give her attention more fully to kids on the four instructional days, she said.

Teachers on the panel also said the year’s schedule has been hard on them.

“If you talk to any of the teachers, the schedule this year is horrible,” said committee member Cindy Wuebker. “Getting any consistency is ridiculous.”

“This year’s schedule is exhausting for me as a parent as well,” said Konda Slagle. “Change is definitely good sometimes.”

A second public forum will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in the high school gym in Lake View.