Four-day week isn’t for everybody

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First community meeting brings concerns forward

By Andrea Tritschler

More than 150 people packed into the School District 27J training room recently to discuss the proposed four-day school week.

But many in attendance didn’t get the discussion they were looking for, when school district administrators presented information about the plan, then had them break into small groups to talk to each other.

“I feel like someone slapped me. I was hoping for more feedback,” said Sarah Horton, a parent in the district.

School district administrators said they want to attract and retain more teachers, save money and further the learning objectives of the district.

“This will make us more competitive,” Michael Clow, chief human resources officer told the group. “When I’m at a recruitment fair, the line for Cherry Creek is long. I’m in that line handing out information about 27J.”

A few teachers at Overland Trail Middle School have already expressed interest in the four-day week, administrators said. A popular Spanish teacher was considering a move to a Boulder County school where the pay is $10,000 greater than in Adams County, said Eric Lambright, school principal. The change has her reconsidering, Lambright said.

“Thoughtful, prepared, less-stressed teachers are good for kids,” Lambright said. “The No. 1 person who impacts students is a teacher. It’s the most important indicator for students.”

While district administrators made their case, many parents and community members were unsure about plan and left the meeting feeling dissatisfied.

“I’m surprised they are even considering this,” said Cynthia Turner, a parent of a Southeast Elementary School student. “About five of us sitting at this table were under the impression this was an idea. But we were told ‘This is what we are doing and we have to take it or leave it.’”

Officials didn’t answer any verbal questions in the meeting. Instead, attendees were organized in groups to discuss their issues with each other and write down their likes, dislikes and things to consider on a paper that was collected by officials.

“It gives parents an opportunity to sit with the community and talk,” said Tracy Rudnick, a district spokeswoman. “I think people will find they aren’t the only one feeling that way.”

The most common questions will be answered on the district’s website, Rudnick said. Those questions are expected to include, “Why now?”; “How will this affect my family?”; and “What is the educational value?”

Superintendent Chris Fiedler, who has a son in the district, said this plan would be the school district’s last chance to be great. Without support from taxpayers and multiple failed attempts to get voters to approve tax increases, the district is struggling to compete with others in the metro area, Fiedler said.

Voters haven’t passed a school district mill levy since 2000, despite seven requests in 17 years. Adams County is one of the fastest growing in the state, but more growth doesn’t equate to more money for the district, Fiedler said. Growth just moves what percentage of funding comes from the state and what comes locally.

“It changes the percentage of the pie,” Fiedler said. “But it doesn’t make it bigger.”

Some parents said they view the school district as gambling with their kids’ education by discussing the four-day-week plan.

“We’re sort-of taking a risk here,” Horton said.

But officials see more of a risk in continuing business as usual. Colorado school districts that have switched to four-day weeks haven’t gone back.

Most of the districts are in rural areas with small class sizes, Fiedler said. For example, Pueblo 70, a district with 10,000 students, implemented a four-day week in 2010. The state Department of Education gives Pueblo 70 a “performance,” rating, which is higher than School District 27J’s “improvement” rating, officials say.

“Our school districts are not economically or demographically the same as those districts,” Turner said. “The real question, is, have those districts not gone back because they like the four-day week or did they not know how to go back?”

A 2015 study of Colorado school districts on the four-day week by the Association for Education Finance and Policy shows that many communities (mostly rural) like the four-day week.

Parents with young kids in the district are concerned that a longer school day will actually be detrimental to their children’s education. Each school day would be less than an hour longer to make up for not having classes on Mondays.

“It can be stressful asking 6, 7, 9-year-old kids to do a longer day,” Turner said.

Officials aren’t worried an additional 40 minutes of classroom time a day will have much of an effect on students. Results gathered by the Association for Education Finance and Policy generally indicate a positive relationship between the four-day week and performance in reading and mathematics in elementary school students, suggesting there is little evidence that changing to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement.

“I’m not sold on the idea,” Turner said. “They presented it and made it look good, but how will they act it out?”

It’s clear the impact of a four-day week goes beyond the classroom and into the community. Community members will have another chance to learn about the possible changes related to a four-day week at meeting from 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Stuart Middle School, 15955 E 101st Way, Commerce City.