Four-day school week rejected by board
Public opposition and concerns over younger students cited
The board of education for Valdez City Schools voted down a pilot program proposal to send students to classes for only four days a week for the 2013/14 school year. The vote was held Monday night during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting.
“I don’t think it’s time to try this particular thing,” said board member Dr. Kathy Todd before casting a vote against the proposal, which failed by a vote of 4-2.
Backers of the proposal, which included the district superintendent, Jacob Jensen, and the board’s calendar committee, which studied the issue extensively for 18 months prior to Monday night’s vote.
The concept has been eyed by the district for many years, mainly as a method to combat high absentee rates on Friday’s. Friday absenteeism among student athletes is a statewide problem. In rural Alaska, high school athletes typically must travel outside their small home districts to be able to compete against other teams. The problem often trickles down to the lower grades when families take younger kids to travel with the high schooler and parents.
The calendar committee, led by district test coordinator Ruth Knight, saw the four-day school week as a way to allow athletes to have more time in class with teachers and less time outside of class completing assignments without teacher guidance.
“I don’t think it’s just for athletes,” John Snelders, a district parent told the board during Monday night’s meeting, noting the school’s choir, and some academic clubs sometimes travel out of town on Fridays for regional meets and competitions.
“I’m getting tired of people picking on athletes,” he said, “Pre-makeup is hard.”
He also testified that he believed concerns that younger students and those with special needs would not be hampered by a longer school day and with an extra day off.
“I think kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for,” he said.
Some teachers have complained during public meetings regarding the four-day work week that they are unable to teach effectively on Fridays due to high numbers of students that are not in class.
In previous meetings, concerns had been raised that teachers allowed class time to deteriorate during Fridays when athletes are absent from class.
Other concerned parents and guardians pointed out other pitfalls of the proposed plan.
“I am totally against it,” Ruth Black, a parent, said. “It’s very impactful to the community.”
Black questioned the wisdom of children attending school four days a week while typical parents work five days.
The committee had proposed switching to a four-day week on a two year trial basis with assurances the district would switch back to a traditional five-day school week if student attendance rates – and test scores – did not improve under a trial program.
“I think it’s a big deal,” Todd said, “even to try out.”
The concept of holding two half-day sessions Knight called an enrichment program open to students on Fridays did not sway many that expressed concerns that many kids in Valdez will be home alone on Fridays.
“I love the philosophy of it,” one commenter said, but noted that the kids most likely to need an additional day of help outside the classroom were probably the least liable to attend school-sponsored activities.
Board member Toni Balowski also expressed doubts an extra day off from school would be beneficial to most students.
“I’m really concerned about that extra free day for kids,” Balowski said, amidst other concerns with the concept.
Many parents and some teachers also believed younger students simply would not adjust well to the longer school days needed to facilitate a four-day week.
Board member Dave Lawrence, who voted for the proposal, said he saw many benefits to a trial program and few pitfalls.
“I don’t think there’s a risk to the education of our children,” he said.
Steve Brockman, board president, said he favored the plan because it would increase contact time between students and teachers.
In the final vote, only Brockman and Lawrence voted in favor of the concept. Board members Todd, Balowski, Anita Fannin and Dawn Farmer voted against it and the proposal failed. Board member Dan Walker was not present