The local school board is having early discussions about what it would take for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to shift from a five-day school week to a four-day school week.
Board members convened in the Soldotna High School library for a series of planning sessions that kicked off with a discussion about the concept of a four-day work and school week.
KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland made clear to board members that the purpose of the discussion was not to make any decisions about a four-day school week, but rather to start a conversation about the topic. Provided to board members ahead of the discussion were 10 articles from various sources about studies on four-day school weeks.
Board member Jason Tauriainen, who represents Nikiski, has been a vocal proponent of shifting to a four-day school week, which he said would improve the quality of life for students and teachers and enable the district to offer more professional development opportunities. Many middle and high school students, he said, already miss some Fridays because of sports or other activities.
“As we go through this, I think we need to look at what works for us as a district and what potentially works for our area,” Tauriainen said.
As far as implementation, board members threw around as ideas a pilot program in some areas of the district, giving schools the opportunity to let their community decide and implementing a blanket change across all 42 KPBSD schools. Also debated was whether or not, to accommodate the shorter week, the district would make each school day longer or extend the school year.
Board members also talked informally about potential pros and cons of making the switch. For example, a longer weekend may attract new teachers to the district, but could also put parents in a position of having to find child care one day per week while they’re at work. A shorter week could boost student attendance, but would also reduce overall instructional time.
The district would also need to keep in mind what effect the change would have on school support staff, like custodians and counselors, and on students who rely on services like free and reduced lunch programs. A short week would also likely impact schools differently depending on the size of the community.
Throughout the conversation, board members took input from district staff who also attended the day’s planning sessions. KPBSD Director of Student Support Services Terry Manning urged the board to keep in mind the needs of students with disabilities or other special needs, and Director of Elementary Education Eric Pederson said parent input should be weighed heavily.
The group was able to bounce questions off KPBSD Director of Secondary Education Tony Graham, who previously worked for a rural school district in Montana that made the shift to a four-day school week. Graham said the district he worked for served about 235 students and implemented the change in response to looming budget cuts and high rates of absences on Fridays.
“Like 70 to 75% of our kids were engaged in extracurricular activities so on any given Friday, if there was an away game, it was ghost town,” Graham told board members. “The kids just left and then you’re just kind of sitting there twiddling your thumbs and so we had a lot of absenteeism because of that.”
Graham said his former school district spent about two years researching the concept and then he stayed with the school district for another year after that. Most of the district’s cost-savings, Graham said, were minimal and largely stemmed from the district needing fewer substitute teachers.
The district saw an increase, Graham said, in statewide assessment data. Prior to the implementation of a four-day school week, Graham said 30% of students were approaching proficiency or far below proficiency on state assessments. After two years, all students met proficiency levels in math, reading and writing.
Key to student success, he said, was the participation and involvement of the broader community. In Montana, Graham said the district offered remediation or enrichment days on Fridays and even made available to high school students CPR classes to help boost the pool of people able to provide child care for parents struggling with the four-day week.
He urged in-person participation of district administrators in community meetings if KPBSD opts to solicit public input in that way.
Moving forward, Holland suggested to the board that they discuss and analyze one element of the proposal. One meeting, he said, could focus on potential cost-savings associated with making the change, while another could be used to brainstorm what the four-day school week structure would look like, particularly for elementary school students.
The board’s full June 6 planning session can be streamed on the school district’s BoardDocs page at go.boarddocs.com/ak/kpbsd/Board.nsf/Public.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.