Four-day school week a hard sell to parents
Exploratory committee jazzed, parents and officials need convincing
Valdez Star photo
Ruth Knight, director of curriculum for Valdez City Schools, giving a public presentation on the findings of a committee formed to explore the ups and downs of a possible four-day school week in Valdez.
Is Valdez ready to switch its students to a four-day school week?
That is the question posed to parents and educators Thursday night after a committee formed to explore the possibility presented its findings at a public meeting held at the Valdez High School cafeteria.
The committee was formed after the board of education gave Jacob Jensen, superintendent of Valdez City Schools, permission to take a hard look at the concept.
“Since I have been in Valdez - `99-2000, we’ve sort of taken itty bitty looks at a four day school week,” said Ruth Knight, the district’s test coordinator who headed up the 15 member committee. “It’s something we’ve always needed to do.”
Proponents of the four-day school week cite high rates of absenteeism on Fridays throughout the district, which become particularly problematic at the junior and senior high schools when sports teams travel, as impetus for change. Educators on the committee wholeheartedly backed the concept, claiming that students need to spend more time in the classroom - regardless of the fact the district requires students to pre-makeup class
assignments they will miss before being allowed to travel to participate in sports.
“It looks good to us but we need input from everyone,” Knight said before asking for feedback from attendees.
While a few parents in the audience at large supported the concept, a larger number voiced opposition to the move or claimed they had not yet reached a decision on whether or not they could support such a change.
Parent Mark Swanson was the first to speak out after the committee pitched its plan.
He questioned what he felt were inconsistencies in the data presented to bolster the committee’s backing of the concept, and wondered whether or not it would actually enhance or detract from the district’s reputation as running quality schools. He also questioned the wisdom of attaching such importance to athletics – which are an extracurricular activity - that all students must change their mode of education. He also felt a four-day school week would be of higher benefit to students whose families are well-off and could adversely affect less-privileged students.
“We have a moral responsibility” to educate all children to the best standards, not just the privileged, Swanson said.
Others questioned if elementary aged students – especially kindergarteners and those under third grade - could properly adapt to a longer school day. As envisioned by the committee, the school day hours for a Monday through Thursday schedule would run from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at Hermon Hutchens Elementary School.
It was also pointed out that the majority of parents that spoke out in favor of the proposal were also school district employees.
School board member Toni Balowski gave strong testimony that chastised teachers who had stated earlier in the presentation that students who go to classes on Fridays treat class time differently , creating a negative learning environment.
“Don’t treat my kid differently because they’re not playing sports,” he said, and challenged the committee to bring more concrete data to the table that proves a four-day school week is not only educationally sound but of benefit to all students.
“Convince me, I’m open minded,” he said. “Try to convince me.”
The committee noted concerns brought up, including the fact that comprehensive studies on the ups and downs of the concept to show emphatically that it is educationally superior to the traditional five-day week.
Valdez Star photo
A PowerPoint presentation from the Valdez City Schools committee to explore the possibility of a 4-day school week for district schools lists positive activities out-of-state students are said to do on their extra day off. Some detractors of the proposal say not enough attention was paid to less-positive activities kids might participate in if left on their own on Fridays.
“The studies out there on this model are dubious, no empirical data,” reads a laundry list of concerns noted by the committee and released after the meeting.
Other concerns for student welfare under the proposal include negative impacts on families that may have to pay for additional childcare on Fridays, how students receiving free meals will be impacted with one less day of school and potential increases in delinquency.
Others criticized the district’s timing for the Thursday’s meeting, which gave much less than a week’s notice to the public.
“We have our marching orders,” Knight said at the end of the meeting.
A second meeting has been scheduled for Monday, March 19, at the Valdez High School cafeteria. A timeframe of 6:30-8 p.m. has been slated. This date and time is different that was slated earlier.