ELKHART – Elkhart Independent School District (EISD) board of directors voted to implement a four-day school week starting next year. The district joins many others around the area and state adopting the program with work already beginning to coordinate the schools to hold classes Monday-Thursday for much of the school year.
The EISD board voted for the measure at a Monday, Feb. 27 meeting after intensive research, including parent and teacher surveys and public hearings and presentations. So far, Grapeland and Slocum schools have opted for the four-day week with Kennard going through the process of considering adopting the new schedule. Crockett ISD is also known to be looking into the matter, while Lovelady ISD has decided to make changes to their schedule without adopting the full plan. (See interview in this edition of The Messenger with Lovelady ISD Superintendent Wendy Tullos.) Latexo ISD adopted the measure two years ago and the majority of parents and educators say they have made the four-day week a success.
EISD Superintendent Dr. Lamont Smith spoke with The Messenger after the vote and said adopting the program was necessary to be a competitive option for educators when good teachers are hard to find.
“Ultimately, we want to make sure we maintain a great environment for our kids and for our staff,” Smith said. “There is a teacher shortage throughout the nation and we have staff members that are eligible for retirement and we want them to continue to work with the district. Also to creating the opportunity for potential staff members to want to join our team.”
Smith undertook a rigorous study from the issue, visiting districts similar to Elkhart who had adopted the new schedule. Smith was able to see a presentation from DeKalb ISD at a TASA (Texas Association of School Administrators) in Austin to gauge the academic benefits of the four-day week. Smith also visited Camden-Corrigan schools to listen to their experiences implementing the changes.
“Camden-Corrigan had difficulty filling positions,” Smith said. “But when they went to a four-day workweek, they had all kinds of individuals desiring to join their team which gave them the opportunity to be selective in who they bring on board.”
Asked their opinion, 70% of EISD staff said they supported the measure with another 25% being open to the idea. Smith said he wanted to make sure his staff were behind the idea before moving further.
Smith knew parents would most likely be divided on the idea and speaking with parents proved that correct, with about half of parents saying they were in favor of the idea. Another 18% were not yet for it but not against it, making the majority either outright in favor or at least willing to have the district look into it.
Smith added the ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ votes and knew he needed to at least make and present a plan to the community. Working with several other people, the district studied and considered several versions of the plan, eventually adopting a schedules with Fridays off.
“We talked about the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of of what a four-day work week could bring. We decided to turn those ‘cons’ into questions for us to answer. ‘What would be the negative aspects parents would have or students or staff would have?’” Smith explained. “We began as a team to develop responses and our instructional leadership team and administrative team started developing responses to potential issues or concerns.”
Like other districts, EISD still had a lot of details to sort through, with many months still to work on the details. How to coordinate sports and extracurricular activities on Fridays, how to make food available to kids who will not be in school one day a week. Smith said the district is losing no time in working through each of the issues now, before the plan is implemented next spring.
“Our pacing guides are going to have to be addressed as far as what we teach, when we teach it and the time period in which kids are allowed to learn and understand. Another aspect is going to be what homework could potentially look like and making sure kids are not overwhelmed with homework.”
Smith is working on day-care and take home lunch options, too, relying on community and outside support to supplement both. Smith said the goals of EISD are to ensure student success far into the future.
“To ensure our kids are successful, because at the end of the day, that’s why we are moving into a four-day workweek – so our kids will be successful. How are they successful? When you have educators in position that care about kids – who are excited about their jobs, love their jobs and want to be in Elkhart.”
Greg Ritchie- Messenger Reporter