January 28, 2014

Lake View

The calendar committee will not be recommending a switch to a four-day week for the 2014-15 school year, said East Sac County Schools superintendent Kevin Fiene at Monday night's public meeting in the high school gym in Lake View. However, the option remains on the table for the future.

"There are some very legitimate reasons a four-day week makes sense and some equally legitimate questions that need answers," said Fiene. "Consequently, we want to keep studying it. We think it has merits, but we're not ready to recommend that."

These concerns were reiterated throughout Monday's public meeting. They included child care for the fifth day, changes to bus routes and schedules, and the effect an extended day could have on students participating in extracurricular activities.

The committee's goal was to develop a calendar that limited the number of interruptions to student learning, explained Kerri Eichhorn, calendar committee member and special-education teacher at the high school. Under the current calendar, only 12 of 36 weeks did not have at least one late start or early dismissal, resulting in several days of shortened and unproductive class time, she said. Under a four-day week, the school day would be extended by one hour Tuesday through Friday and teachers would use Monday to complete state-mandated professional-development meetings, as well as building- and district-wide collaboration time without interrupting the students' school week.

One of the most prevalent concerns voiced at Monday's meeting was the impact on sports. If East Sac is the only school district in its sports conference to attend school until 4 p.m., would students miss more class to make it to junior high games that typically begin at 4 p.m.?

Fiene acknowledged that the committee did not have concrete answer. However, Eichhorn pointed out during a brief presentation on the four-day week that the focus of the school committee is on "education first."

Gene Riley questioned why the committee didn't consider taking Wednesdays off instead of Mondays since there are already no junior high practices on Wednesday nights to allow students to attend church groups. He also said a day off in the middle of the week would eliminate concerns of children going hungry over a three-day weekend because they lost access to one of the free school lunches.

Teresa Bettin, calendar committee member and middle school language arts teacher, said the committee had considered Wednesdays but taking a day off in the middle of the week would defeat the purpose of moving to a four-day week to limit interruptions to the school week.

Fiene also said there are "backpack programs" available in which students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches could receive food to take with them over the three-day weekend. The option will need to be explored further as the committee continues to investigate a four-day school week.

Don Peterson, a local pastor, asked if the churches would lose the Wednesday night restrictions on activities that enable students to attend youth groups rather than have to choose between church and extracurricular activities. Fiene said no, adding that there was no reason a four-day week would impact Wednesday night activity restrictions.

Several parents of special-education and elementary students voiced concerns about fatigue that would accompany an extended day. The parents worried that the extra hour of class would be too much for their children's concentration.

Bettin responded that the day could be organized so the children tackled core academic work first and music, art and physical-education specials at the end of the day when they wouldn't focus as well. There had also been discussion of adding snacks throughout the day to keep students energized, she said.

Another common concern was the cost of providing child care for the fifth day of the week when students would not be in school.

Fiene said he "envisions forming partnerships" with community organizations, local churches and ministerial organizations to help address those needs throughout the community. Also, high school students would also have no school on those days and could be hired to baby sit, he suggested.

If the four-day week were implemented, the school could also incorporate voluntary programs on that day or work with students who need extra assistance. Referencing WACO, a school district in southeast Iowa that has implemented a four-day week, Fiene suggested that buses could eventually run on that fifth day so all students would have an equal chance to participate. WACO sees 90 percent of students participate on the voluntary fifth day, Fiene added.

Attendees also asked if the teachers could finish their professional-development work before the school year started, eliminating the need for late starts or early dismissals. One community member suggested that teachers renegotiate their contracts and find a way to meet outside school hours "rather than changing the kids' and everybody else's time."

Sac Elementary third-grade teacher Wanda Bruxvoort responded that many teachers are also parents and would guard their evening hours to spend with their families, the same as other parents in the gym concerned that an extended school day would impact the students' balance between school and family.

Fiene confirmed that it is not possible to complete all of the staff meetings outside of the school year.

"There is no perfect schedule, no magic wand," he said as he closed the meeting, thanking parents and community members for attending and offering opinions.

The first public meeting on the four-day week was held Monday, Jan. 13. Originally scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 16, the second meeting was rescheduled to Monday night due to weather. School officials estimate that attendance was similar for both meetings, with roughly 50 people attending each.

According to Fiene, the 2014-15 school year will likely have a combined calendar that would eliminate some late starts and early dismissals and incorporate some four-day weeks.