As administrators, we are always researching and making decisions that can have an impact on the overall school environment. In 2016, our district in Oklahoma made one such decision by pursuing a four-day school week. Obviously, the primary reason districts consider a four-day school week is a lack of funding. In our case, our district is heavily dependent on state funding allocations, and Oklahoma’s have been in decline. This decline and the uncertainty of future state funding led our district and site administration to seriously consider and eventually adopt a four-day school week.
Prior to making this decision, our district’s administration considered other solutions: personnel layoffs, increasing class sizes, reducing funding or cutting certain programs, and possibly eliminating transportation services within town. Instead, we decided to look at how a shorter school week could potentially help us save on utility expenses, bus fuel, substitute pay, breakfast and lunch expenses, as well as the overall wear and tear on equipment and technology. During the decisionmaking process, our district chose not to change personnel hours and pay, which could have resulted in greater savings.
However, districts grappling with how to provide students the best education in challenging circumstances shouldn’t only frame the discussion in financial terms. While budget shortfalls were one of the driving forces behind our decision to adopt a four-day school week, there are four other components beyond funding that we are prioritizing. These guiding principles can offer a starting point for administrators who are preparing and evaluating sweeping changes to their schools.
Focused instruction. We knew we would have to work with teachers to preserve the instructional process that our students were accustomed to receiving. At the beginning phases of implementation, we asked our teachers to evaluate their pedagogical approaches and outcomes with each lesson. Since the transition to a four-day school week, we have noticed through classroom observations and feedback that teachers are more focused on their instructional delivery and coverage of state standards. Our district continues to assess curriculum, instruction, and time management, which helps keep the focus on the instructional practices and processes within our classrooms.
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Functionality. At first, we did not really understand the gravity of the new schedule’s functionality. Now that we are entering our third year, we have been able to see the benefits, even in areas that we did not consider during the initial development. For example, we are no longer losing hours of instruction time to Friday athletic absences. We have also noticed a morale boost within the culture of our schools from an additional day each week for personal and professional planning. Several of our students have been able to obtain jobs and work on Fridays, which is important in the context of our community’s socioeconomic status. Understanding the roles of extracurricular activities, staff morale, and the broader needs of one’s community is as essential as considering what happens in the classroom.
Feedback. Continued feedback is vital for districts to evaluate the success of any change initiatives to the school environment. Even prior to implementing a four-day school week, we sought feedback from teachers, support staff, parents, and the broader community members and businesses about the plan. Yes, not everyone was in favor of a four-day school week, but the overwhelming majority supported it as a solution that would offset our loss of funding while retaining high-quality teachers, maintaining lower class sizes, and keeping extracurricular programs such as arts and agriculture.
Feedback was also necessary at the end of each year to evaluate the successes—or failures—of a four-day school week. For example, administrators report improvements in their ability to attract and recruit high-quality teachers from other districts since we implemented the change. Feedback from teachers, students, and parents continues to be in support of our district and the four-day school week.
Faculty Development. When we started the four-day school week, the administrators decided to make professional development a focal point of the initiative. We redesigned our professional-development calendar so that instead of having the bulk of professional-development days taking place before the school year begins, we were able to add additional days and spread them throughout the school calendar on various Fridays.
In the past, some of our professional-development days were independent of each other. By incorporating continuity and the additional days, we were able to develop cohesive professional development with an explicit focus on college and career readiness.
Whether a district is a traditional five-day or a four-day school week, faculty development should always be at the heart of improving classroom instruction.
So many times, the changes to district policy are assessed only in terms of funding and ways to conserve money. Beyond that, there are so many more necessary components that need to be discussed within the educational community before and during a change as substantial as switching to a four-day school week. At our district, we believe focus, functionality, feedback, and faculty development are integral to that discussion.
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A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2018 edition of Education Week as Don’t Let Funding Have the Last Word