If passed, change would not begin until 2013/14 school year
The board of education for Valdez City Schools will vote May 14 to decide if the district’s three schools will begin a four-day school week for the 2013/14 school year. The district’s calendar committee is asking the board to approve a two-year pilot program that was discussed with the board and the public at a special meeting Monday night.
“We’re proposing this as a two year pilot,” Ruth Knight said, “A trial.”
Knight, the district’s test coordinator and head of the calendar committee, studied the four-day school week concept for her Master’s thesis.
If the board decides to pass the four-day school week calendar, Valdez City Schools will be the first district in Alaska to do so and it will not apply to the next school year, 2012/13.
“The school board has already adopted a five-day calendar for next year,” Knight said.
The proposed four-day school week has been put forward as a way to address the high rate of student athlete absenteeism on Fridays in Valdez for many years. However, a switch was not possible until recently because the State of Alaska required students to attend school a certain number of days per school year. A recent change in policy mandates students attend school a set number of hours per school year instead, allowing districts to explore the possibility of a four-day week.
There will still be several obstacles to overcome if the board votes in favor of a four-day school week.
“We have a couple of significant hurdles if we’re going to do something like this,” Jacob Jensen, district superintendent, said during the meeting.
TRS, the Teachers Retirement System, still mandates set numbers of work days for teachers when calculating retirement benefits according to Jacob Jensen, district superintendent. While teachers and most school administrators will still work at least 12 Fridays per school year under the four-day week for students, it is unclear how the potential change will affect teachers’ retirement benefits or if a change in state law mirroring school hours versus school days will be needed to ensure teachers receive proper retirement credits.
“We possibly would need to get some legislation changed,” Jensen said.
The change must also pass muster with Alaska’s commissioner of education.
“I think the benefits are positive,” he said, “but you need to go into it with your eyes open.”
The four-day school week concept has been driven by the high absentee rate of student and teachers on Fridays according to boosters.
In the rural areas of Alaska like Valdez, student athletes are often forced to travel out-of-town several school days a month in order to compete against other schools.
Proponents say a four-day school week will give students more time in the classroom with teachers.
“I think it’s a must,” Kyle Sidoway said. “This way our kids would be missing only maybe half a day of school.”
Sidoway is a wrestling coach at Valdez High School. He said prior to moving to Valdez, his children attended school in Idaho when the state switched to a four-day school week.
“It was absolutely amazing,” he said, the improvements he noted in student achievement.
Other parents felt the benefits of the proposed change are dubious for students with challenges or disabilities.
“You really can’t do more with less,” Mark Swanson said.
Teacher Sheri Beck, along with other parents, expressed concern for underprivileged students and those with serious troubles in the home.
“I’m concerned about those little ones that don’t have support,” she said.
For some students, switching to a four-day school week could mean the kids will have one-less meal a week.
Another parent expressed concern for the students whose home life is in chaos.
“There are times when school is the safest place for them,” she told the board. “Please don’t ignore those individuals.”
Knight said the district has tentative plans for two half-day “enrichment” programs at the schools that students will have to option to attend on Fridays, that could include food and bus service.
The committee also presented a specific list of goals the district hopes to achieve by switching to a four-day week. Among them, Knight said if student test scores don’t go up and the high rate of absenteeism does not go down, the district will switch back to the traditional five-day week.