The Marshfield R-I school board held an open discussion on Jan. 10 and 14 about the possibility of a four-day school week. The topic has been discussed at previous school board meetings and was received with much debate and anticipation. Superintendent Mike Henry and school board was hopeful that opening the discussion to the public will help the district navigate through the growing pains that come with change and find solutions to problems they may encounter.
Henry dove into the many reasons the district is leaning toward the new schedule. The district is facing a staff shortage in every department, along with a lack of substitute teachers. In addition to the shortage, teacher workload and expectations have changed throughout the years. Here more recently with COVID-19, which has resulted in longer days in the classroom for teachers. Henry did not shy away from the reality of it.
“I had a teacher say this to me “I have to make the decision, do I fail the children in my classroom? Or do I fail the children in my home?” because of the hours that their job is taking,” shared Henry.
With the new schedule, Mondays would be utilized twice a month for teacher workdays. The district is hopeful teachers and students will take advantage of those Mondays for health appointments or personal matters. Ultimately, the district wants to provide a better work-life balance.
“Teachers will be able to limit the number of evenings and weekends that they're spending in classrooms, to make additional workload on teachers more manageable,” said Henry. “Teachers are still going to work extra. That is just the heart of a teacher. That is what happens, but this makes it where they can breathe a little bit.”
The district expects that a shorter work week and an increase in hourly wages will attract new educators, especially with so few entering the education field.
“We reached out to Evangel, to get a couple of student teachers. Evangel is known for producing very good educators,” explained Henry. “Evangel said between last semester and this semester, we have one student. And so that really started things turning in my mind about this teacher shortage, it’s not somewhere else. It's here. And it’s already happening.”
Initial concerns for the district adopting the new schedule include the length of the day, child care, loss of instruction time and quality of education.
The district plans to add 26 minutes to the school day, thus changing the hours to : 7:50 a.m.-3:25 p.m. or 8:00 a.m.-3:35 p.m. The length of the school year would remain the same, however, the new schedule would terminate early release on Wednesdays.
To ensure that the short week would produce quality instruction time, teachers would dedicate work days to plan high-quality lessons, teacher collaborations, and bell-to-bell teaching. Henry and Dr. Garrett Lowder, Assistant Superintendent of Academics, emphasized that teachers will have to be more intentional and efficient with time in the classroom.
Potentially, child care will be fulfilled by the nonprofit group, Boys & Girls Club of America. The childcare would be free to all K-8th grade and staffed by paraprofessionals and other qualified personnel. The costs of partnering with the Boys & Girls Club for the district is approximately $50,000. The cost would be compensated by the operative costs that usually occur during Monday school sessions.
Opening the discussion to teachers and parents in the audience brought a wave of thoughtful, passionate, and emotional questions. Many were in line with what the four-day week would look like for students; homework, transportation, and sustainability. Lowder spoke affirmatively that by placing a high priority on teacher planning and collaboration, the district could provide an earnest education to all their students.
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