February 6, 2014

Two 2014-15 school year calendar proposal drafts sent to the East Sac Community Schools board of education on Monday for review show the use of both four- and five-day weeks for next year. The two weeks also show either a 15- or 30-minute extension to the school day.

The East Sac school district had been examining the possibility of moving completely to a four-day school week for next year with the school day extended by an hour. The goal was to cut back on the early dismissals and late starts in order to give teachers and students uninterrupted time in the classroom rather than this year's series of shortened periods due to professional development meetings the teachers are required to attend, explained Kerri Eichhorn, high school special-education teacher and member of the calendar committee.

This committee, comprised of teachers from all four of the district's buildings, held two public meetings in January to seek community feedback.

At the second meeting, superintendent Kevin Fiene announced that there were valid concerns regarding the move to a four-day week, including procurement of child care, effects on extracurricular programs and food for children receiving free and reduced-price lunches, and that the district would not be implementing a full move to a four-day week next year. However, the committee would continue to study the idea for the future, and would likely incorporate some four-day weeks into the 2014-15 calendar, he added.

The two drafts reflect this inclusion, with roughly half of the school weeks being four days long.

In the first draft, the school day, which is currently seven hours long, starting at 8:20 a.m. and running until 3:20 p.m., is extended 15 minutes, starting at 8:15 a.m. and running until 3:30 p.m. This calendar has 20 five-day weeks, 19 of which are uninterrupted with early dismissals or late starts, and 16 four-day weeks, one of which is due to having no school on Labor Day, and all of which are uninterrupted. The calendar has two "other" weeks, a three-day week when the school year starts in the third week of August, and a two-day week due to Thanksgiving break. The only early dismissal is on the last day of school, May 22.

In the second draft, the school day is extended by 30 minutes, running from 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. This draft shows 17 five-day weeks, of which 16 are uninterrupted by late starts or early dismissals. It has 18 four-day weeks, one of which is due to the Labor Day holiday, and all of which are uninterrupted. This draft also has two "other" weeks, the first week of school - in this case in the last week of August - and the week of Thanksgiving. The only early dismissal is on the last day of school, still slated for May 22.

The current school year has 25 five-day weeks, only 12 of which are uninterrupted, said Fiene. It also has eight four-day weeks, of which only four are uninterrupted. It has five "other" weeks, 17 two-hour late starts and eight early dismissals.

The current year contains 1,109 instructional hours. The first draft contains 1,106 classroom hours and 16 parent-teacher conference hours, for a total of 1,121 instructional hours. The second draft has 1,105 classroom hours and 16 parent-teacher conference hours, for a total of 1,121 hours of instructional time. Fiene said the committee has also discussed maintaining the current start and end times but described it as "very rough" draft. He also said that the final drafts proposed to the school board could be slightly different than the current drafts, as work is ongoing.

"The two things driving us were uninterrupted teaching time and still supporting professional development," Fiene said. "Is it really testing out (the four-day week)? Not so much, but it does give a flavor."

Fiene said he is "cognizant" that concern over extending the school day was one of the prevailing comments heard at the public meetings on the four-day week, particularly from parents of younger children. He asserts that there is a difference between extending the day 60 minutes and extending it 15 minutes.

Another strongly voiced concern was that children relying on school lunch for a meal would have more trouble over a three-day weekend, as both calendars at least double the number of four-day weeks in the year, Fiene said that school leaders would research a backpack program to provide those students with snacks over the longer weekends.

On Monday, the Iowa Department of Education waived the March 1 deadline to submit 2014-15 calendars to the state for approval. As a result, the board will not be taking action on the calendar at its Feb. 17 board meeting. Fiene said the board plans to hold a final public hearing on the calendar issue immediately preceding the March board meeting, at which board members will select a calendar to implement for next year.

The tentative date for the March meeting is Monday, March 17.