Out of Idaho’s 174 school districts statewide, 60 of them have shortened their schedules from the traditional five school days per week to four. That’s according to Payette School Board of Trustees Chairman Adam Rynearson, who notes that number has been growing in recent years as he observed at an Idaho School Boards Association conference this year, titled “Is the four day school week right for you?”
Rynearson brought the potential for a four-day school week in Payette schools to the table for discussion at the district’s Dec. 9 board meeting, to gauge whether there was any appetite to pursue such a schedule.
“Looking at that, with this four-day week, I found there are lots of upsides than just saving money,” said Rynearson. “I talked to various people in [four-day] districts to find out why they went to a four-day week … I was surprised at some of the responses I got. Some districts did it for increasing attendance.”
In many rural districts, students have to travel long distances to deal with dental, medical or vision appointments or even just to get to school.
“Because of their geographical location, they may be hours from an orthodontist or whatever services students will need, taking them out of school for a long period of time,” said Rynearson.
District Superintendent Robin Gilbert agrees that cost-savings isn’t an overriding factor in such scheduling, noting minimal if any cost savings. However, she said it could help retain quality teachers.
“Savings is not necessarily the reason to go in that direction; Research showed that initially several districts dropped achievement scores a little bit and then picked it back up. As I talked to [their] superintendents, they said it’s actually… recruitment and retaining highly-qualified teachers.”
But for it to work in Payette, Gilbert noted, “The whole community has to support it.”
Rynearson also said he though a four-day week could work well with Payette High School’s block schedule, and could help with preparing for athletic contests specifically on Fridays.
“I think it works naturally for four days a week,” he said.
Rynearson also observed that it wasn’t just small districts going to four-day weeks; He said many of them had more than 1,000 students, with the largest to do so, Malad, having 2,400 enrolled.
Board member Andy Kirkendall observed there are potential benefits in possibly implementing a four-day week in Payette, but there are a lot of moving parts to handle.
“It’s interesting, the benefits, but also the other things to think about,” he said. “My biggest concern is what would the community think of Friday without school.”
Kirkendall also pointed out a possible loss of hours for some employees, noting that the community would need time to prepare for such.
According to Rynearson, feedback from communities with four-day schools in Idaho is largely positive.
“Most communities’ biggest concern is what about students on Friday? and [Homedale District’s Business Manager] told me that … they didn’t end up having a problem with it.”
Kirkendall also observed that fewer days could encourage stronger effort from students, with retention of quality teachers.
Rynearson notes that some teachers won’t apply at five-day districts anymore.
“I think probably the most consistent response I got was the recruitment and retention of professionals,” Rynearson said. “A lot of districts … it was a way they could offer their teachers something different, and being able to retain them. When I asked [Marsing School District] what their recruitment was like, [Marsing replied], ‘When was the last time you had eight teachers apply for an English job?’”
No timetable for possible implementation has been set, and the board did not make a decision at this time.