Educators share experiences with 4-day school week

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Although some area patrons have not yet been convinced on the positive aspects of a four-day school week, local proponents of the class-restructuring plan are drawing on educators who have experience with the shortened weeks in their effort to illustrate the benefits of the change.

Officials of the Pawhuska Public School District are in the process of gathering information about the four-day format and are gauging the reaction to it by the district’s parents, teachers and other citizens. A change from the traditional five-day week in favor of adopting the new class schedule could be considered for the school year that begins next August.

A public discussion on the four-day issue was held last Thursday at Pawhuska Community Center. Approximately 60 people attended the informational meeting, which was moderated by a committee of local educators who attempted to explain the plan and its benefits.

One who spoke favorably of the four-day school week was Scott Conley, a teacher from the Prue School District located in southeastern Osage County, northwest of Tulsa. Conley said Prue was the first district in Oklahoma to adopt the plan seven years ago. (Currently, 34 of Oklahoma’s public school districts are using the four-day week, including Barnsdall, Prue, Avant and Fairfax in Osage County.)

According to Conley, there had been major turnover of faculty at Prue schools prior to the switch to a four-day week. He said the average teaching tenure was about two years prior to the reduction of weekly class days. Conley said he is one of a half dozen teachers who have remained with the Prue district for the seven years that the shortened school weeks have been in affect. He said almost no teachers have left the district to take employment elsewhere since the four-day plan was implemented there.

At the Jan. 5 meeting of the Pawhuska Board of Education, former local teacher/coach Chris Tanner spoke about his experience with the four-day format at Copan Schools, where a change to the shortened class week was made just last fall. Tanner, who is now the principal of Copan High School, said he has seen many positive developments as a result of the switch.

“It’s working,” said Tanner, who taught and coached at Pawhuska for eight years before going to Copan three years ago. “I think it has been a huge benefit to our community.”

Tanner said the four-day format “has eliminated a problem for some of our kids that were getting their 20 activity hours” before a semester had ended. He also believes the 10 minutes added to each class daily have improved the quality of the interaction between teachers and students.

Committee members at the Thursday meeting explained that Pawhuska schools are already exceeding the required 1,080 instructional hours per year mandated by the state, so the change would add minimal minutes to the four scheduled class days. One possible scenario would have high school class days beginning at 8 a.m. and concluding at 3:30 p.m. with each period lasting 55 minutes.

The committee speakers referred to a study by the University of Southern Maine that showed four-day school weeks increase student attendance, decrease disciplinary problems, tardiness and absenteeism. The study further claims a shorter school week increases classroom effectiveness, they said.

Concerns about truancy already being a problem in Pawhuska were countered by studies that indicate higher percentages of students attend classes under the four-day schedule.

The local teacher committee will make a presentation on the issue during the school district’s February board meeting. Pawhuska Superintendent Dr. Landon Berry indicated that a decision on whether or not to change the school calendar will likely be made by March.