Powell schools consider 4.5-day week with Friday afternoons off

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Instead of getting out of school early on the occasional Wednesday afternoon, Powell students may have every Friday afternoon off starting next year.

Initial survey results show the overwhelming majority of local educators and parents — 88 percent — support moving to a 4.5-day school week with early release on Friday afternoons.

“Currently, under the schedule that we have, we lose a lot of kids on Friday,” said Jay Curtis, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1.

Powell High School students often miss Friday classes for various activities and athletics and many teachers also are gone as coaches or as parents, Curtis said.

“It’s not just the kids we’re worried about — it’s having qualified teachers in front of the kids as well,” he said.

Under the current schedule, Powell students are released from school early on a dozen Wednesdays throughout the school year. School employees use those Wednesday afternoons for professional development.

The new schedule proposes switching professional development to Friday afternoons. School would begin a little earlier and end a little later (see related graphic below). Under the proposed schedule, all Powell schools would still meet the state’s required hours for the school year.

PHS would add about 10 more hours over the course of the year, while the middle school would lose about a dozen hours; one small change — like 10 minutes in a lunch hour — adds up to a large amount of time over the course of a school year, Curtis said.

A committee of about 25 teachers, administrators and transportation staff in the district researched the 4.5-day school week and presented its data to the Powell school board last week.

“We went into this with the goal that all schools ensure all students are engaged in meaningful learning opportunities on Fridays,” said Scott Schiller, principal of Southside Elementary School, who served on the committee.

Curtis added that, “We want to make our decisions based on research and what we feel is best for our students and also for our staff.”

The Powell school board is slated to make a decision on the 4.5-day school week during its meeting Tuesday, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Central Administration Office.

Wednesday versus Fridays

“The research is pretty clear that the calendar in and of itself is not a driver of achievement,” Curtis said. “There are lots of other factors that go into that, namely, the quality of teaching, namely, the way you use the time you do have with students.”

While schools see a high frequency of student absences on Fridays, fewer kids miss class on Wednesdays.

“Wednesday is the one day we don’t have a lot of activities going on,” said Steve Lensegrav, who teaches chemistry/physics at PHS.

Attendance data from PHS shows that on a Wednesday in September, 63 students were absent, with 38 of them missing only one hour.

On that Friday, however, 134 PHS students were absent. Of those, only nine were gone for an hour. That means 125 students missed more than one hour of instructional time, Lensegrav noted.

“The number of kids gone on Fridays currently — and a lot of it is activity-based — is gigantic, so we’re automatically losing that instruction time for those kids, where we can increase instructional time for all kids by moving from that Wednesday idea to the Friday idea,” Lensegrav said.

Teachers also told the school board they would like a consistent weekly schedule.

On Wednesdays, kids often aren’t sure if it’s a full day of school or a half day, said Cathy McKenzie, who teaches fourth grade at Parkside Elementary School.

“If every Friday is the same, the kids aren’t going to have that — they’re going to know that this is a learning day,” McKenzie said.

Kids tend to have a different level of excitement and energy on days when school is released early.

“... The kids — and I believe this is the case at each level — they’re geared up for early-release Wednesday,” said Crosby Tajan, who teaches P.E. at Powell Middle School.

Kids also get excited on Fridays about the upcoming weekend.

“The way I look at this proposal is now we’re kind of combining both elements of distraction into Friday, so that as instructors we can really get geared up for not only the early-release scenario, but for the Friday element as well,” Tajan said. “And we can kind of bring our A-game on Friday in one shot that’s very consistent.”

For educational purposes

Powell school board chairman Greg Borcher said that over the years, one of the biggest complaints he’s heard about early-release Wednesdays is they’re a waste because of the shortened class periods.

“I can tell you that walking those halls on Wednesdays, teachers are teaching,” said PHS Principal Jim Kuhn.

Kuhn said teachers are making the best use of the time, whether it’s a shortened class period or a full one.

“With taking a look at what’s demanded of our teachers standard-wise, graduation-wise, college-wise, we really don’t have time to not push every single day we’re in the classroom,” he said.

Superintendent Curtis said another priority was to ensure that most teachers would be in town for professional development on Friday afternoons.

The committee tried to capitalize on home games and also considered major events, such as holidays and Homecoming.

Under the proposed schedule, there will be 18 Friday afternoons for professional development when coaching absences could be limited to two or three.

“I don’t think we can say currently that we have 100 percent of our teachers here on Wednesdays, either, for various reasons,” Curtis said.

When staff members didn’t have professional development days, they would have Friday afternoons off.

Trustee Lillian Brazelton asked how the schedule change would affect hourly employees, such as para educators.

“While I cannot guarantee that it will be hour per hour exact, what I did guarantee is that anyone who currently has benefits will not lose their benefits,” Curtis said.

He said some hours could be used toward professional development for para educators or providing after-school opportunities. The change is not meant as a way to cut the budget, Curtis said.

“This is for educational purposes only, and we want to take care of our people, particularly our hourly people,” he said.

Trustee Kim Dillivan asked what programs would be available for kids on Friday afternoons, and Curtis said there’s been discussion about reaching out to community organizations that provide activities on early-release Wednesdays.

Amy McLain with New Life Church said the church currently serves about 45 kids on those early-release days.

“We could safely say that we would be prepared to offer the same program on the days that the teachers have in-service — those 18 days,” she told the board.

Principal Schiller said he talked to Southside’s parent group about the 4.5-day week proposal, and they’re supportive of a consistent schedule. Parents said they lose track of when the early-release Wednesdays will be, and they also favored the Friday switch because it provides more family time on weekends.

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