A tiny school district in West Texas is making big news. It’s reportedly the first district in the state to offer students a four-day week option.
Under the new schedule set to start next school year, students will be required to attend class for 25 additional minutes Monday through Thursday. Attendance on Fridays would be optional for students but mandatory for teachers.
“We figured that was the best solution for our district,” said Gabriel Zamora, the superintendent of the Olfen Independent School District.
The four-day option is now possible in Texas thanks to a measure passed by the state legislature last year. It requires students to have 75,600 minutes of instruction per year rather than 180 days. [CORRECTION: (Feb. 19) An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of instructional time required under the new law. It’s 75,600 minutes.]
Zamora says the idea for a four-day week option in Olfen came out of looking for a way to help struggling students.
“We kept on fighting for time, and we kept on fighting for a way to provide additional help to our students, and the four-day option was a solution for us,” he said.
But, he said, that word option keeps getting lost in all this.
He pointed to those worried about child care and others who think his teachers just want an extra day off.
He said he and his staff will actually end up working more under the new schedule.
“I have a staff that is happy to do it because they’re looking at the opportunity that they’re going to have on that fifth day to work with kids,” said Zamora.
He hopes the kids who need extra help will come to school on Fridays for tutoring. (Eventually, he plans to make it mandatory.)
If those students take advantage of this opportunity, the impact in Olfen could be huge.
The district is unique. It’s made up of about 60 students. Classes have no more than 12 kids, and it’s easy to imagine a student getting close to one-on-one help under this system.
“I’m hoping that by implementing this we have the opportunity to assist our students in keeping caught up and that my teachers instead of having to work from the house or on weekends, that when they’re off, they’ll actually be off,” said Zamora.
For students who don’t need extra help with academics, the district plans to offer activities such as karate, wood shop, and pottery.
Zamora said he expects more school districts in Texas to follow Olfen’s lead.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some districts that do go straight up for a four-day and not what we’re doing where we’re still working that fifth day, and the reason for that is the cost savings,” said Zamora.
He said that wasn’t a factor for his district, which will actually spend more because of the four-day option.
Zamora said the additional spending will come from the need to hire staff to lead the Friday enrichment activities.
But he imagines that this option will attract more kids to his district, which is primarily made up of transfer students.
“What I hope is that we’re able to draw more students, and if we do, then with more students, sometimes comes more funding,” he said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.