For a lot of schools, the road ahead is a bumpy one. District superintendents are juggling flat budgets with increasing costs. Getting teachers to work for the meager starting salary is also a struggle. So, how are they making it work?
What if your kids went to school four days a week- instead of five?
A couple Oklahoma school districts are switching to the shortened schedule next year in an attempt to recruit teachers, because they’re struggling to do so otherwise.
“Obviously teacher pay is not where it should be in Oklahoma,” said Lori Helton, the superintendent of Locust Grove Public Schools, where they are preparing to shorten their school week.
“And when you’re talking about not being able to give someone an increase for the work that they do, you have to find other ways to make the job worthwhile.”
Helton saw how the teacher shortage affected other districts last year—many of which went all year without filling their open positions. And the fact that she had eight teachers leaving worried her.
But last March, when her school board voted to make Monday part of the weekend—things changed.
“As soon as that became public—we had not posted any job openings yet—and the resumes started coming in,” she said.
Helton said the applicants expressed a lot of interest in the compact schedule. And she had no trouble filling her positions.
She hasn’t heard any complaints from the teachers already on staff, either.
“They were very excited,” she said.
According to Helton, the change to hours puts more pressure on teachers to use each minute wisely, but says her staff is already making plans to do so.
“Especially at the elementary level, having just that little bit of extra time at the end of each class to be able to work with those kids individually. Having that additional time for reading intervention, for math intervention.”
The new schedule makes each day one hour longer, and individual classes will last an extra 10 minutes, which adds up to the same amount of time in school.
Currently, about 30 districts in Oklahoma already follow the shortened schedule. By law, they are allowed to meet a certain number of days or a certain number of hours. By meeting the hours requirement—they can distribute them however they want.
Helton admits she’s a little nervous about the shift to the four day week— and said if they don’t see positive changes in test scores, student discipline, and attendance—then they’ll go back to the five day schedule.
Other schools in Oklahoma are switching to the four day school week next year as a way to deal with budget cuts.
Josh Sumrall—the Superintendent of Coyle Public Schools said his district will save eight to 10 percent of their budget by chopping that one day off their school week.
“Small schools, all schools really, are having to do whatever they can to keep their head above water,” he said.
Sumrall said savings on things like diesel fuel for buses, energy costs, and substitute teacher pay could add up to a full-time teacher salary. Which he thinks they could actually recruit with the shortened week.
“I’ve hired three teachers this summer, and all three said they applied here because we’re going to the four day week.”
Asher Public Schools also made the switch five years ago to save money. Terry Grissom, the district superintendent said they now pocket an extra 20,000 to 30,000 dollars a year because of it.
He’s received multiple calls from superintendents this year—seeking advice about childcare, test scores, and wanting to know how the kids dealt with the change.
“There was an acclimation time,” Grissom said. “It took ‘em a little while to get used to it, but it doesn’t seem any different now.”
He said the district’s science scores have gone down a bit, but their math scores shot up. But thinks that could be the result of so many different things.
Grissom said—for Asher—childcare hasn’t really been an issue —and thinks 90 percent of the community loves the four day week.
“If anything we’ve just heard compliments.”
Grissom admits he doesn’t think the change is suitable for all communities, but he’s glad it’s working for his.
Plus, he said switching back to a five day week is kind of impossible at this point, and said if he did, he would have a teacher revolt on his hands.