A town hall meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 11, openly discussed the possibility of going to a four-day school week within Mineral County. With a small crowd of 40 attendees included parents, teachers and administrative staff, a variety of honest questions and valid concerns were shared.
Joe Burch is the teacher from Hawthorne Elementary that is spearheading this endeavor. Burch welcomed the group with a brief overview that encouraged open dialogue, while stressing that this decision was not finalized and is currently at a “discussion only” point. The evening’s information included the pros and cons which could arise from setting aside an age-old tradition of a five-day school program.
Special guest speaker, Superintendent Bob Dolezol from White Pine County, had volunteered his time to address the inner workings of converting to a four-day schedule. Dolezol candidly presented both sides of transitioning to a four-day school week by stating the facts which their data revealed within his own school district.
Initially the main concern was child care for working parents, which Dolezol’s district worked through by offering a Friday tutoring program that utilized older students and adult volunteers, while closely working with local programs already available. A second concern was the possibility of dealing with policing problem kids while off on Fridays, but statistics showed an actual 30 percent decline in his district, as they found their local kids slept in and rested at home on the extra day off. More teens got jobs in the food industry and school attendance improved from 91 percent to 96 percent on a four day schedule, showing that Friday was most likely used for doctor and dental visits, as well as out of town travel. For those participating in sports, it allowed Friday to become a practice day and at times a travel day to weekend events. In his review, after six years on this four-day schedule, 59 teachers out of 63 in his school district were positive about the change, expressing a more positive outlook throughout the school year.
The current principal at Mineral County High School, Mike Domagala, stated that his personal experience with a four-day school week was in Round Mountain. “I got more accomplished on a four-day school week than I did in five because I had proper prep time and better morale without sacrificing my family time, which made me more refreshed as a teacher. For those that don’t know it, teachers arrive early and usually work late or come in on weekends. A four day week allowed for a more balanced life for everyone, which assisted my family too. Also, when recruiting teachers this could benefit any hiring package.”
Dolezol’s saw a successful change for his teachers, the district and the students. His school district, along with various others such as Pershing, Eureka, Lander and Esmeralda have pioneered this change which assists a school district such as Mineral County in overcoming pitfalls and yet it was emphasized that this decision is a personal one for each county. There is a state law in place accepting the four-day school week for any district that chooses this format.
It was important to note that school testing scores were not affected in Dolezol’s district and the school district’s savings was mainly in the area of fuel and less use of substitute teachers. With a 12 million dollar budget per year, their savings manifested between $150,000 – $200,000.The students adjusted to the extended day schedule within a few weeks without exhaustion issues. A formulation of time frames would be figured to allow for staggered busing, more recess breaks and a lunch. This would meet all state mandated educational hours.
Dolezol’s expressed the undertaking of reviewing the various positions within the school system have to be addressed as unions are involved, food service, bus drivers, substitutes, custodians and support staff. It’s not just about the students and teacher’s scheduling. “There will still be those that work five days, especially in administration, support staff or maintenance, yet there is some savings on the overall buildings use, say within utility costs,” Dolezol explained.
With this decision still in the discussion phase, the district is still seeking the return of a majority of green survey sheets sent home with the children throughout the district. Burch stated that 400 surveys were sent home with 146 returned that was showing a 67 percent agreement toward a four-day schedule. Dialogue regarding this issue is encouraged as another meeting will be planned and a town hall is scheduled in Schurz on this topic.