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A record 105 Missouri school districts — 20 percent — embrace four-day weeks

A record 105 Missouri school districts — 20 percent — embrace four-day weeks
Fair Grove school officials decided to switch to a four-day week a year before COVID-19 altered life in Missouri.
Superintendent Mike Bell said the pandemic did not prompt the change but it has erased any doubt it was the right move.
By starting classes on Tuesdays, Fair Grove found more time for staff to clean, students to study and teachers to put together in-person and virtual lessons.
"It has allowed us additional time to plan," he said. "Unknowingly, the four-day week has been a tremendous help in dealing with the COVID-19 situation."
Across the state, at least 105 districts — 20 percent of Missouri's public school districts — have officially adopted a four-day school week. Most operate Tuesday through Friday, giving families and employees a three-day weekend.
The number has skyrocketed in the past three years and shows no sign of slowing.
Fair Grove Middle School students take a quiz during an 8th grade science class on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.
Missouri has allowed districts to adopt a truncated calendar for more than a decade but there were few takers early on. By 2017, just 25 mostly tiny, rural districts had made the change.
The number grew to 33 in 2018, nearly doubled to 61 in 2019 and has hit at least 105 this fall.
"That is how fast we are growing," said Jon Turner, an assistant professor at Missouri State University that studies the four-day school week. "Now you are seeing larger, suburban districts looking at it, too."
Turner said the pandemic, which shuttered schools in the spring and most of the summer, may help fuel the growth.
Fair Grove elementary school students compete in a race outside the school on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.
Beyond the 105 districts that have made a permanent switch, many other districts are at least temporarily operating on a modified calendar during part or all of the 2020-21 year  as a way to limit spread of COVID-19.
For example, Springfield has not adopted a four-day week but currently offers a maximum of four days of in-person learning a week. Most students attend either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, with schools closed Wednesday for deep cleaning.
Turner said temporary changes spurred by the pandemic may prompt more districts to seek calendar flexibility in the future.
"Districts that would not have considered four-day before have now figured out some of the details," he said. "It's definitely going to push up the number of districts that have a different schedule, whether it follows the class four-day model or not."
Fair Grove Middle School students take a quiz during an 8th grade science class on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.
In the New Bloomfield district, just north of Jefferson City, most students are in class four days a week. Teachers use the fifth day to provide intense intervention in reading and math for struggling students.
"That is a fascinating model," said Turner, who has visited New Bloomfield and at least 50 other districts with the four-day week. "It is really neat what they are doing with their fifth day."
Turner said pre-pandemic, the Bakersfield district in Ozark County used the day without in-person classes each week to organize job shadowing and career exploration activities for older students. "That fifth day can still be an active day of learning, it just may not be a traditional day."

Pandemic provides extra push

In the 540-student Scotland County district, 10 miles from the Iowa border, a push to go to the four-day model was rejected in the spring.
"There was some uncertainty about what that would look like, the changing of curriculum and the longer days," said Superintendent Ryan Bergeson. "There were a lot of logistical issues to work through."
Weeks later, in April, the board voted 5-2 to make the change.
"Definitely, the pandemic happening altered everyone's decision-making," he said.
Bergeson said the three-day weekends have been a hit so far.
"A lot of parents like it because they are busy every single weekend. It's nice to have a day to unwind then maybe on Sunday they can stay up a little later and sleep in on Monday," he said. "They do their appointments on Monday."
A hand sanitizing station in the gymnasium lobby at Fair Grove High School that has been converted into a second lunchroom to allow more space for social distancing.
Billings, a 375-student district in Christian County, adopted the four-day calendar for this school year.
Superintendent Cynthia Brandt said the change was made in April with the agreement that it will be reviewed in one year.
"Our community wanted it so the board approved it based on the community's wishes," she said. "There was overwhelming support."
Brandt said it is difficult to compare the change this year to a typical year because of the other adjustments needed due to COVID-19.
"We are starting off in a little different situation with the virus," she said, noting all of the feedback so far has been positive. "It is helpful gaining a day for the deep cleaning."
Students take part in a reading assignment in a class at Fair Grove Elementery School on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.
In the DeSoto school district near St. Louis, the board voted — after the start of the fall semester — to move to the four-day model through at least Jan. 15. If the pandemic is still going, it may be extended.
Superintendent Joshua Isaacson said the idea of switching had been discussed but not seriously considered prior to COVID-19. "We believe our students need to be in school."
However, this fall, the concept got another look. With 1,800 students learning in person and another 600 learning virtually, teachers need time to plan and to set aside "office hours" for virtual learners during the week.
"That Monday allows us to catch up on a lot of things," he said.

'On the leading edge'

Missouri lawmakers granted districts the flexibility to adopt four-day weeks in the middle of an economic downturn, as limited state funding for education was prompting school officials to make tough decisions.
Jon Turner
In 2010, Lathrop was the first district to switch.
Turner, an expert on the four-day week, said early adopters were largely motivated by the financial savings. Fewer days of class mean fewer days buses will run, meals will be served, and air conditioning or heating will be needed.
"The first ones that were adopting, it was about money," he said.
In the second wave, a shift became apparent. Cost-cutting may have been a factor but a bigger motivation was the ability to use the four-day model to attract and keep teachers that were able to make more money in a larger district.
Turner said smaller districts can attract a new teacher with a competitive starting salary but it gets harder to hold onto them once they gain experience or a master's degree as larger districts will pay more toward the middle and end of a career.
"That is when the salary gap gets huge, an $8,000 to $12,000 difference between a tiny rural district and a more suburban or urban district," he said. A four-day school week can help a smaller district remain attractive.
Tables in the cafeteria at Fair Grove schools have every other seat marked off to encourage social distancing due to COVID-19.
In recent years, as the model has gained momentum, Turner said he is seeing another motivation that he calls "keeping up with the Joneses."
Everton was the first southwest Missouri district to make the move, which likely gave it an edge in recruiting and keeping teachers.
Turner said it wasn't long before neighboring districts such as Pierce City, Stockton and Miller made the switch.
"Once one school district adopts then it creates concentric circles around that district as other districts learn about it," he said. "One district will be on the leading edge and test
the waters and then it changes the dynamic."

'A lot more work'

Fair Grove transitioned to a four-day week in 2019. By then, nearly all the districts in its athletic conference had already made the move.
Bell, the superintendent, said a major objective was to gain an advantage in attracting and keeping the best teachers. "As the shortage nationally grows, that is something we wanted to be ahead of the curve on."
Fair Grove Superintendent Mike Bell on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.
He said working parents expressed concern about the lack of child care on the fifth day so the district set up an Eagle Care program. However, fewer than 20 signed up and it was eventually phased out.
The extra planning time was a perk for existing staff, especially teachers, and emerged as a silver lining amid the pandemic.
"Teachers are planning twice as much as before because of the virtual component," Bell said. "They are trying to build their in-classroom activities and build virtual options for students in quarantine. It is a lot more work."
Bell said there was a marked difference in the classrooms and hallways of the 1,130-student district under the new schedule.
"We had fewer discipline incidents. We had more refreshed teachers and the student body," he said. "It just seemed like everyone was in a better mood, they were happier."

Timeline

Here's a look at the Missouri districts that switched to a four-day week based on data provided by Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education plus the research from Jon Turner, an assistant professor at Missouri State University.
The list does not include districts that are temporarily operating on a four-day week:
2010: 1 — Lathrop
2011: 3 — Albany, Harrisburg, Montgomery County
2012: 2 — East Lynne, Orearville
2013: 3 — Everton, Maries County, Miami
2014: 0 
2015: 6 — Community, Laclede County (Joel E. Barber), Miller, Pierce City, Stockton, Wellsville-Middletown
2016: 3 — Holliday, Jasper County, Niangua
2017: 7 — Bradleyville, Crane, Drexel, East Newton County, North Callaway County, Roscoe, Walnut Grove
2018: 8 — Bakersfield, Clinton County, Galena, Halfway, Higbee, Pike County, Schuyler County, Warsaw 
2019: 29 — Adair County (Novinger), Adair County (Brashear), Ballard, Butler, Fair Grove, Grandview, Greenfield, Hickory County, Johnson County, Keytesville, LaPlata, Linn County, Lutie, Marion C. Early, Moniteau County, Northwestern, Osborn, Osceola, Pleasant Hope, Renick, Ridgeway, Spokane, Stoutland, Sunrise, Verona, Warren County, Weableau, Winona
2020: 43 — Appleton City, Aurora, Billings, Blackwater, Bucklin, Cabool, Calhoun, Centerville, Clever, Climax Springs, Cooter, Crystal City, Elsberry, Fayette, Forsyth, Green Ridge, Henry County, Hurley, Iron County, Lakeland, LaMonte, Marion County, Meadville, Montrose, New Bloomfield, Newtown-Harris, Osage County, Otterville, Pattonsburg, Pettis County, Reeds Spring, Sarcoxie, Scotland County, Sherwood Cass, Southern Reynolds County, Southland, Southwest Livingston County, Sturgeon, Summersville, Taneyville, Tina-Avalon, Van-Far, Westview, Winston

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