The Short of It
A small district in rural west Texas recently adopted a four-day school week, becoming the first in the state to take advantage of a new law giving schools flexibility in setting their calendars.
The Texas state legislature last year approved a measure that changed the recording of public schools' instruction time to minutes, rather than days. On Jan. 12, the Olfen School District, which currently has about 60 students in its kindergarten through eighth-grade system, unanimously approved the four-day school week, which would provide 77,000 minutes over 160 instructional days.
Under the new schedule, normal instruction will take place Mondays through Thursdays, but attendance will be optional for students on Fridays beginning in the fall. To make up for lost teaching time, an additional 25 minutes will be added to each school day.
According to Superintendent Gabriel Zamora, Fridays will remain a regular workday for all teachers and staff, and tutoring and other kinds of academic help will be offered for students.
"When I saw that it was almost impossible for us to provide additional or after-school tutoring, I figured this would be a way to implement some kind of way to help those kids who needed it," he told Today.
Zamora says the district also will continue to offer transportation five days a week, so parents who depend on a regular school week as a form of childcare won't be affected by the new schedule.
Zamora spent "countless hours debating the pros and cons with staff, parents and board members," and he said the turning point came when he received support from staff, since the four-day school week will actually mean a longer work week for them.
"Their payback is going to be on Fridays, after they finish the tutoring, because they'll have the opportunity to do their grading, to do lesson plans, enter grades into the computers," he said. "Those are things that teachers, especially in small school districts, rarely have the opportunity to do in the day. It's something they end up doing after school or even on weekends."
Zamora hopes the new schedule will encourage the district's surrounding communities to provide enrichment activities, like karate, gymnastics, leather working, and pottery, that are hard to implement in a rural district like Olfen. And he expects the new calendar could attract parents from nearby communities.
"The amount of attention that each of our students get here is amazing. When you have a class that sometimes has six to eight students in it, how can you not interact with that teacher? How can you slip through the cracks?" he said.
This type of shift would definitely be my kids' dream come true. What do you think; is a four-day week a good idea? Or would you give it a failing grade?