Parents

Four-day school week? Parents react to district's controversial decision

A Colorado school district recently announced its decision to move to a four-day school week as part of an effort to retain highly qualified but overworked teachers, and parents have some strong opinions about the change.

The 27J school district of Adams County, Colorado, announced earlier this month that starting in the 2018 fall semester, students will have a Tuesday through Friday schedule. The revised schedule adds approximately one hour to each school day.

According to a guide posted to the school district’s website, start and end times will vary for different grade levels, with elementary school and full-day kindergarten going from 7:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. while middle school and high school will go from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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Dozens of parents voiced their opinions about the new schedule on the district’s Facebook post announcing the change.

“I wonder how long it'll be before SD27J has to move to a 1-day school week, where kids are there for 27 hours of the day, in order to save money, do what's best for the kids, and attract more high-quality teachers,” one skeptical parent wrote.

Others noted that while they were open to trying something for the sake of the district at large, they were concerned about what longer hours might mean for their own kids.

“Hours are too long for kids, both elementary and high school,” one concerned parent wrote. “After school, homework, sports, dinner, they will be lucky to be in bed by 11pm. My kids could never pull these hours off with their extracurricular activities.”

Tracy Rudnick, the public information officer for 27J, told TODAY that the proposal for a schedule change did in fact come about with students’ best interests in mind.

“Our school district is the lowest funded district out of 15 school districts,” Rudnick said. “We’ve gone out for the mill levy override, a tax increase to support our schools, six times over the last 10 years. It’s been shut down every time. Taxes have gotten really, really high in this area, but we can’t keep asking the community for something that the community is clearly not comfortable with."

"We had to get creative. Over the years, we’ve lost a lot of teachers, because they can go over to the next district and get paid more. They love the community but financially, they can’t work here.”

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Students in the 27J school district will have four-day school weeks starting this fall.

The shortened work week aims to provide built-in time during the day for professional development. Rudnick said the district administration was aware that teachers often used their personal time for lesson prep. “If we can’t pay them like working professionals, then we can treat them like working professionals,” she said.

In neighboring Boulder, Colorado, she said, teachers can earn $10,000 more a year, which is a substantial amount that 27J just can’t offer. “About three years ago, we had our highest turnover at about 22 percent. The number has gone down but it’s still 10 to 15 percent,” she said. “It costs the district time and money to recruit and train new teachers.”

School District 27J is far from the first district to try this strategy; earlier this week, Pueblo’s District 60 announced that it would be implementing the schedule starting this August. And according to a March 2017 report, the four-day school week is already being practiced in at least 43 districts in Idaho, 30 in Oregon and nearly half the districts in Montana. At least 88 districts have already adopted the schedule in Colorado.

Teachers such as Kathey Ruybal, who has taught for 23 years and is president of the Brighton Education Association in the 27J district, welcome the change.

“This four-day week is a more attractive work-week, but the reality is that even though the days sound longer, they’re that long anyway,” Ruybal told TODAY. “Ironically, by shortening the work week, the new schedule will actually give teachers more plan time and time to collaborate with our colleagues and work on professional development, so it’s not that teachers will have a ‘day off.’”

“We already have 38 to 45 kids to a class in middle school and have our high schools on a split schedule to alleviate our space problem," Ruybal said. "Teachers will now at the very least have time to sit down with their colleagues and plan and get training. How could this not benefit everyone?”

In anticipation of the scheduling issues that parents might face, the district is also providing resources to help parents who may find the amended schedule difficult to balance with their own workweeks. These resources include child care on Mondays, offered at $30 a day, as well as before and after-school care with a $25 non-refundable registration fee and a $7 per day before-school fee and a $13 per day after-school fee.

Some parents say they are in favor of the proposed adjustment, even if it comes at an inconvenience.

“My husband and I both work Mondays, so we’ll have to figure out [scheduling] but it’s more like, ‘Okay, my kids might get a better education, so in the long run, this is not that big a deal,’” Melinda Carbajal, a parent with three young children in 27J district schools, told TODAY. “I just think as a society that we learn to have an expectation of government entities to be a certain way, and we don’t let them be innovative. If we allow school districts to be innovative, then we can see really good change.”

If Carbajal were to make use of the district’s proposed childcare, she would be paying $90 a week for her fourth grader, first grader and kindergartener to be taken care of on Mondays, she pointed out. But if the change helps the district retain higher quality teachers, which would in turn help her children get a better education, then it’ll be worth it.

“People are terrified of change, but everything is created — that schedule [five days] didn’t just exist,” she continued. “Do I think it’s the perfect scenario? I don’t. But if we can’t compensate our teachers and we keep spending district money on redeveloping and retraining, then I don’t think we’re being smart. I think the district is being risky with this schedule change…I think in the end, it’ll be a win for everyone.”

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