School board taking time on proposed four-day week

Buffalo High School student Belle Firnekas takes a quiz in Tara Hall’s class on the Friday afternoon before spring break. Earlier this year, the district surveyed parents to gauge interest in potentially moving to a four-day school week as students involved in extracurricular activities miss a lot of Fridays.

Despite a wave of support from survey respondents, the Johnson County School District board of trustees will be taking its time when considering a possible switch to a four-day school week in Buffalo.

“We see what parents want, but we also need to be mindful of what is best for students,” trustee Dave Belus said at a school board work session on March 25.

According to a survey recently completed in the district, 644 Johnson County residents – or about 66% of survey respondents – said they would prefer a four-day school week. Roughly 22% of respondents – or 218 people – said they wanted to keep the current five-day calendar. Only 116 respondents – or 12% of those surveyed – said they were interested in the four-and-a-half-day hybrid week.

Board members agreed that there were both pros and cons to a potential switch to a four-day week.

Trustee Margo Sabec said the schedule had worked well in Kaycee.

“I know students, parents and teachers all really like the four-day week in Kaycee,” Sabec said. “There is much more student-teacher contact when you’re not trying to schedule classroom time around Friday activities.”

The district implemented a four-day schedule in Kaycee in 2014. Students at Kaycee School have a slightly longer school day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Monday through Thursday and have a flexible Friday dedicated to voluntary tutoring, extracurricular activities and personal commitments.

Within months of implementing the new schedule at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, then-Principal Andrea Gilbert said she saw results. The K-12 school traditionally hovered in the low 90s in terms of attendance percentage, but within the first year of the new calendar, that number jumped to 95%. Gilbert said that students were more focused than ever and many students’ grades improved after the implementation of the schedule.

Jason Moss, the current principal of Kaycee School, said the school continues to see some benefits from the four-day week.

“I would say our attendance has continued to be good,” Moss wrote in an email to the Bulletin. “We would like to increase it even more, but we definitely see benefits to having our activities on Thursday evening, Fridays or Saturdays. Jason Humble, our activities director, has done a great job of doing this in order to ensure instructional time is maintained. Achievement increased at first, and we (continue to) see small gains in different areas of achievement.”

Board member Mary McCorkle agreed that the switch to the four-day school week had been good for Kaycee but said that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for Buffalo.

“You can’t compare what will happen in Buffalo with what happened in Kaycee because they are two totally different school sizes,” McCorkle said. “In Kaycee, the student-to-teacher ratio is smaller, so I imagine it would be easier to fit the needed instruction into four days. That might not work in Buffalo.”

Another potential issue with a switch to a four-day week is that Buffalo would be something of a trendsetter amongst schools in 3A, Sabec said.

“In the case of Kaycee, there were other 1A schools that had already made the switch,” Sabec said. “For schools of its size, Kaycee School is kind of in the mainstream. But Buffalo High School would be an outlier in the 3A division. Part of the reason for this move is more time for activities, but that might not work if all of our competitors are still on the five-day schedule.”

McCorkle expressed concerns about whether the four-day school week could affect quality of instruction.

“Right now, we have four good instructional days, and Fridays are kind of a crapshoot because everybody is thinking about the weekend,” McCorkle said. “Now we’re talking about three good instructional days and Thursdays becoming the crapshoot. Is that really what is best for kids?”

Superintendent Jim Wagner said he and the board would do some research on how switching to a four-day week could impact both academics and athletics. He said they would also look at other alternative calendars such as a yearlong school year that would not have a full summer break but would alternate between 45 days of school and 15 days of break. This particular schedule has been effective in combating students’ summer learning loss, Wagner said.

There will be no immediate changes to the school week because the calendar is currently set through the end of the 2019-20 school year, Wagner said, which will give the board plenty of time to make an informed decision.

“We’ll continue gathering information and my hope is that by December, we will have everything we’ll need to make an informed decision,” Wagner said.

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