Kingman teachers overwhelmingly support longer school days, shorter school week

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<BR>Jean Drumal checks a list as teachers lead students to board school buses at Desert Willow Elementary School Thursday afternoon.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<BR>Jean Drumal checks a list as teachers lead students to board school buses at Desert Willow Elementary School Thursday afternoon.

KINGMAN - Kingman Unified School District's decision to look into adopting a 4-day school week has been in the works since December. The proposal, introduced by superintendent Roger Jacks and his staff at the Jan. 12 board meeting, would have the district operate Monday-Thursday for students, with the option of remediation and enrichment on Fridays.

From a budget perspective, it's a good move for the district. The district must cut their current spending projection for the 2016-2017 school year by $800,000, and this proposal is projected to immediately save the district over $350,000. Most of that savings would come from their transportation budget. The district would save an estimated $94,800 in diesel fuel and a whopping $193,000 from their transportation payroll, mostly due to a cut back in overtime.

It's clear, though, that while the budget savings would be substantial, moving to a 4-day week might address issues of retaining teachers and test scores for students.

"The question I asked all of our principals is that we have to make sure it's right for our community and our district," said superintendent Roger Jacks. "The students here can be noticeably different than other districts. The attitude and morale of your teacher is huge. If they feel like it's going to increase morale and efficiency, then that stands a much better chance of showing better achievement."

Jacks and his staff conducted teacher surveys prior to proposing the 4-day week to the board, and according to Jacks "over 90 percent" of the teachers were heavily in favor of the proposed scheduling.

Jennifer Hannan, a kindergarten and first grade teacher at Cerbat Elementary School, has been teaching for the better part of two decades. She is one of those teachers in favor of the proposal.

"I think that, for the student, it will give them an extra day of downtime, where their weekends will be a little bit longer," said Hannan. "I think that day will help kids that need extra help with enrichment opportunities."

Hannan sees families using those Fridays to schedule appointments for the doctor or dentist, possibly reducing absences during the week. She's also in favor of having an additional day of prep, which would normally take place after school during the week or on Saturday.

"As a teacher, it gives me time to plan quality lessons so I can be ready with quality activities," she said. "Right now, I spend most of my Saturday here getting ready for the week, making sure I have everything I need."

Keeping students engaged was an issue brought up by Dr. Charles Lucero, longtime board member for KUSD.

"If there's a way to make it shorter for the students, it'd be a pro to me. That's my concern, the amount of time they're at school," he said. "There's a cutoff when they're sitting in their chairs for 7 hours."

Most schools would have to adjust their current hours to maintain the minimum amount of hours a year they spend in the classroom. In most cases, that requires extending the school day by an hour.

Hannan thinks this is more of a training issue that can be addressed with professional development. Her idea is to move specials, like computers and music, to the afternoons and schedule more activity-based lessons after lunch time.

"At the beginning, it'll be tough," she said. "I don't see it being a huge adjustment for most kids."

Taking Cues from Bullhead City

KUSD isn't alone in looking at four-day school weeks to make up budget shortfalls - 53 public school districts in Arizona alone are currently operating on a four-day week, with mixed results.

Two of those districts are the Bullhead City Elementary School district and the Colorado River Union High School district, both of which are led by superintendent Riley Frei.

"The traditional week for us ends on Friday," said Frei, who refers to the day off as 'Flex Fridays.' For his districts, buildings remain open on Friday. Teachers are on duty the first Friday of every month, and the second and third Fridays are available for enrichment and intervention programs.

The districts implemented the scheduling last year and, according to Frei, have had much success well outside the realm of budget savings. Clubs and activities such as fencing and aeronautics now have a day where they can meet. ACT and SAT prep courses are available to students. Teachers have taken advantage of either an extra day off or an extra day's worth of pay for enrichment.

The financial gain for the district is substantial as well due to how funds are used. Frei's maintenance and operations fund only funds the district Monday through Thursday. Fridays are completely funded through grants acquired by the district. Already existing grants such as Title 1 help fund programs on Fridays.

"There was definitely a financial impact, but that was not the base line of our decision. We felt like we could do a lot better job with enrichment and intervention," said Frei.

Teachers and the governing boards have overwhelmingly approved of the change, and for the time being it looks like the districts are "sticking with it," according to Frei.