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Shorter weeks? Powell school district studying possible changes to calendar

If you ask kids whether they’d like a half-day off from school every week, you’ll likely get a resounding yes.

But adults may feel differently.

In hopes of finding out how the community feels about the school calendar, the Powell school district is surveying parents and employees.

Among the questions: “Do you think the district should consider an alternative calendar in the future, such as a permanent 4 1/2 day school week?”

In a letter to parents, Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis said school officials want to determine if there’s support in the district and community to examine a different calendar, such as the 4 1/2 day week.

“Note, I said examine,” Curtis wrote.

“If there is support to do that, which by the way is not necessarily being advocated for, then we will look at research, take additional input, etc., PRIOR to making any decisions,” Curtis continued. “Again, this is not being discussed as something we would like to do at this point, we just want input to see if a discussion should be started.”

Curtis discussed the calendar with Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees during a school board meeting last month, and trustees agreed the district should move forward with a survey.

The 11-question survey also asks parents and staff about holidays throughout the year. Questions include whether the calendar should have a day off on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and if Christmas break should be roughly 10 days or roughly 14 days. Another question is whether Easter/spring break should be a full week.

Curtis said Powell’s school calendar “has not been changed much for quite some time.”

The school calendar must meet certain requirements from the state; students are required to be in school 175 days, while the calendar for teachers is 185 days. Within those days, schools must meet a certain number of instructional hours, Curtis said.

The state also requires districts to take off federal holidays, such as Presidents’ Day.

“There are certain things that are non-negotiable,” Curtis said.

Beyond those requirements, the school district has some flexibility, such as the length of the holiday breaks.

“We’ll work through the other holidays, based in the order of priority as we’ve gotten on our surveys,” Curtis said.

As for the 4 1/2 day school week, the Powell school district already has an early-release day on Wednesdays about once every two to three weeks. The survey question is meant to explore whether the school should do that every week.

Though called a half-day, it would likely mean students would only be released a couple hours early. It’s possible the regular school days would be extended to make up that time.

During early-release days, when students are gone, staff use the time for professional development, collaboration and common planning time, Curtis said. Powell schools follow the Professional Learning Community model, and professional development and collaboration time for staff is a key part.

“A 4 1/2 day school week can lend to providing more abundant and rich time on a regular basis to have that,” Curtis said.

There’s still a lack of of understanding in the community about why kids get out early on Wednesdays, said Kimberly Condie, who serves on the Powell school board. Board members asked Curtis to write about the reasons for early-release days in the district’s next newsletter.

For the district to move forward with a permanent 4 1/2 day week, there would need to be a compelling argument and strong support among the community and district, Curtis said.

“A compelling argument is not 50/50,” he said.

“This is something that requires community meetings and buy-in, and it has to reflect the community values,” Curtis said. “Because if the community doesn’t buy in, the calendar does not work.”

Since it’s so early in the discussion, school officials haven’t decided which day would be used for early release, if the district moves forward with a 4 1/2 day school week. Trustees also mentioned the possibility of a late-start.

“If you propose a 4 1/2 day school week and say it’s going to be Friday afternoons that they get out, 90 percent is going to say, ‘All right!’” said Greg Borcher, chairman of the Powell school board. “But if you say we’re going to do it Monday mornings, they’re going to go, ‘Wait a minute. What am I going to do with my kids for two hours in the morning?’”

Condie said she wondered about working parents with younger children and what they would do for daycare.

Borcher said activities are offered on early-release Wednesdays, so that may be a possibility if schools release students early on Fridays or start late on Mondays.

The board discussed the possibility of early release on Fridays, since a lot of students already miss school those days for sports and activities.

Curtis noted that on a recent Friday, the volleyball, football, swimming and cross country teams were all gone for competitions. “And in the high school, crickets are chirping in the corner,” Curtis said.

However, the problem with an early-release Friday is that coaches who are teachers would miss out on the professional development time, he said.

Trustees agreed they want to continue placing a high priority on the professional development, collaboration and common meeting time on early-release days, regardless of whether the district moves forward with a permanent 4 1/2 day week.

“It seems like what we’ve done in the past few years has worked very well, because we have some of the highest student achievements in the state of Wyoming,” said Don Hansen, a school board trustee.

Curtis said he’s been pleased with the amount of people who have responded to the survey so far. The survey for parents and staff is available through Saturday at www.surveymonkey.com/r/PCSD1CalendarSurvey.

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