27J Schools, a school district in Adams County, Colorado, was finding it difficult to get quality educators on staff. Their teachers are the lowest paid in any district in the Denver metro area.
They’ve tried to raise taxes multiple times in order to fund higher salaries, but those efforts fell flat. So, school administrators have gone in a different direction to attract teachers: they’ve switched to a four-day school week.
“We weren’t going to compete in the current system,” the superintendent of 27J Schools, Dr. Chris Fiedler, told NBC News. “You just can’t be dead last in funding, last in starting teacher salaries, last in average teacher pay and expect you’ll attract the best folks.”
In Colorado, public school instructional requirements are regulated by classroom hours rather than number of school days. So 27J Schools chopped off one day from the school week and tacked on hours to the remaining four days. The elementary school day has lengthened by 40 minutes. High schoolers are now at school for a full 8 hours.
No one has to go to school on Monday.
“Unlike Friday, Monday is a day for kids and teachers to prepare for the week,” Fiedler said.
Teachers and students can take the day to play, rest, study, volunteer, or participate in extracurriculars. Older students can take the day to work, helping them to develop important life skills while earning income to help them save for college, trade school, or their future in general.
According to NBC News, a junior in the district uses her Monday to go to volleyball practice and volunteer with a seeing-eye dog organization. Another junior picks up extra shifts at a restaurant in order to save money for college. And a third grade student spends the day at the local Boys & Girls Club.
Teachers are able to use their three-day weekends to prep for the school week ahead and enjoy extra personal time.
“It was attractive to me because I was essentially working that long of a day in DPS anyway,” Ally Hyatt, a seventh-grade science teacher in the district, told NBC. “Here, I could just do it four days week. It’s been amazing for my personal life, and I love that I have more time to actually plan lessons on Monday and get everything ready for the week.”
Two Monday mornings a month, administrators in the district have have mandatory professional development; teachers have it only once a month. In addition, students have been supplied with Chromebook laptops and a digital curriculum so that they can still feel connected to their classroom on Mondays.
But while students and teachers seem to love the shorter week, it’s been difficult on parents, many of whom are on a five-day work week.
One dad, Brody Matthews, is moving out of the district for work-related reasons, and is ready to get his family back to a regularly scheduled week. “I’ll be relieved that they’ll be back on a five-day schedule. It’s what pretty much every human on Earth works or goes to school for.”
Another parent, Jessica Lore, who is a single mom of three and works full-time, isn’t a fan of the new system either. “I don’t like it one bit,” she said, “and I feel like the district didn’t take seriously my worries about child care.”
However, the district has made an effort to expand day care options for parents of young children. Parents are able to secure all-day care on Mondays for $30 at one place, while another offers it for $20 for those who can afford it, and free care for those who cannot.
The 27J school district has 28 schools with about 18,000 students, and it’s now the largest school district to implement a four-day week.
The four-day week seems to be more of a draw to rural school districts, but the results there have been contradictory. A 2015 study showed improved academic performance while a 2017 study showed a decline in academic performance. And a 2018 study showed that, alarmingly, juvenile crime had jumped 20%. So far, police in the 27J district haven’t noticed an increase in crime since the new schedule was rolled out.
Many states, like Colorado, regulate minimal instructional requirements by hours in the classroom rather than days. Fielder says that the four-day school week could be a great option for other districts that are failing to retain quality teaching staff or who don’t have enough resources.
The turnover rate for teachers in the district has already dropped from 21% to 13%. According to Fiedler, jobs that used to have a scant number of applicants are now attracting over 100 applications, and the quality of applicants also has improved, with many more teachers holding masters degrees and ESL certifications.
It’s still early to call the change to a four-day school week a total success, since state test results and official graduation rates won’t be available until this fall. It’s also important to keep in mind the burden the new schedule puts on parents who still work a five-day week.
But no matter how long the school week is in your district, paying teachers a fair salary is crucial.
“If you have the money, you should pay your teachers,” Fiedler said. “But for us, it’s a significant differentiating factor that makes us really competitive.”
This story originally appeared at Goodfullness.
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