Guest Commentary: 4-day benefits worth the tryAt the May 19 regular School Board meeting, the school board gave final approval to the four-day school week for the 2010-11 school year.
By: Phil Minkkinen, Lake Superior School District Superintendent, Lake County News Chronicle
At the May 19 regular School Board meeting, the school board gave final approval to the four-day school week for the 2010-11 school year. The plan will change the school week for students and staff from the traditional five-day schedule to a four-day schedule with an increase in the length of the school day and a decrease in the number of school days in the school year.
The proposal has been studied for nearly a year in anticipation of the flat funding for all public schools in Minnesota. Several options that may have reduced the district’s operating costs were studied.
These options included reducing course offerings, reducing teachers at the elementary schools, reducing the number of bus routes, dropping athletic programs, eliminating the deans of students, and increasing fees for participation. Based on this analysis, the administration made a recommendation to the board to consider the option of the four-day week rather than make cuts to programs.
During our research of the four-day week, we found numerous benefits to be gained. The attitude toward school by students improved, academic performance remained the same and in some cases there were slight improvements, there was a reduction in absenteeism due to the ability to schedule appointments on that off day, family time increased due to the extra day off, students have one less day of riding the bus, there are less discipline referrals, the need for substitute teachers is reduced, and the ability to schedule longer athletic trips on that off day or the evening before the off day reduces the impact of lost class time for student athletes.
Of all those Minnesota schools that have already implemented the four-day week, none of them are planning to return to the five-day schedule. Although there were numerous concerns expressed at the beginning, the parents, students and staff felt confident that the change was positive.
The four-day week will cause some change to how the school day looks. The school day will start five minutes earlier than it has in the past. This may result in earlier pick-up times too; but we are looking at ways to prevent that from occurring. The class periods for high school students will be longer; but because each high school operates on a different class schedule, they will look different in each building. The dismissal times for high school students will be 3:30.
The elementary daily schedule will also be slightly longer and will also begin at 7:55. The dismissal time will be 3:20 for both elementary schools. The recess and snack breaks will remain the same as this year, as will the lunch periods.
Our principals have had discussions with their staff concerning the potential need for breaks during the school day if students appear to be getting tired with the longer day. Based on what we have learned from the other Minnesota schools that have moved to the four-day week, students and staff acclimate to the longer days by mid-October. We will be watching this closely.
The total amount of time that a student spends in class remains the same. We have done quite a lot of work to assure that the opportunities to learn over the course of a school year are the same for all our students.
For example, a high school student currently spends 58,310 minutes in class during this school year. The new four-day schedule has the same number of instructional minutes. We have reduced the amount of passing time between class periods and shortened the amount of time for lunch in order to keep the longer school day from becoming too long. We feel we have reached a good balance in time that will work well.
The elementary day is slightly shorter, but the same rule is true, the time in class remains the same next year as it is this year.
We are working on a revolving schedule in the high schools to assure that the last hour classes are not unduly impacted by dismissal for athletic contest departures.
While this is an issue currently, it becomes a greater concern when the school day extends later into the afternoon.
The Friday afternoon and evening events, such as athletic contests, will continue to be scheduled as they always have. The buildings will not be as warm as they have been for spectators. We need to live by the schedules established by our conferences; so if we are scheduled to host a contest, we will.
We know that parents are concerned about the “fifth day” and childcare. We are still working on ways to assist our families with this issue. I urge you to consider this before you think about moving your child from our schools to any other school system. We believe that we provide the very best education your children can receive.
We have some of the best teachers you can find, and they are absolutely capable and prepared to assure that students receive the preparation they need to be successful in their lives.
The final analysis supporting our decision to move to the four-day week was to keep our programs as they are. If we had chosen to reduce programs and staff to balance our budget, we would not have been able to maintain our programs; the programs that are important to all our students.