By Shelby Webb
Published 3:31 pm CST, Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Athens ISD said moving to a four-day school week could improve students’ academic performances, which are measured by TEA through students’ scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR. lessAthens ISD said moving to a four-day school week could improve students’ academic performances, which are measured by TEA through students’ scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or … more
Athens ISD announced earlier this month that it was considering cutting its school week from five days to four, according to a press release from the East Texas district wedged between Tyler and Waco.
Superintendent Blake Stiles unveiled the proposal at a district staff meeting Dec. 3 as part of a presentation on potential models for the 2019-2020 academic calendar.
If the district’s board of trustees approve the change, the shorter school weeks would be launched as part of a three-year pilot program. The district released a survey seeking feedback on Dec. 5.
The plan could pose a major hurdle for working parents, who will have to seek childcare on Fridays rather sending their kids to school. Deputy Superintendent Janie Sims said that potential burden remains the district’s main concern with the plan.
“We know childcare on Fridays will be a challenge for some of our parents, and we don’t minimize the seriousness of that,” Sims said. “We looked into providing accommodations on Fridays, and it simply isn’t viable for us right now. We have to trust our parents to arrange for childcare as they do during holidays and summer break.”
Athens ISD is not the only Texas school district to consider shortening the number of days students are in class. The 103-student Olfen ISD in West Texas opted to take most Fridays off this school year, except for some weeks during which Friday classes or enrichment activities are optional for students.
Shorter school weeks were made possible in Texas after lawmakers approved two statutes in 2015. The first changed the way the state measures school years, requiring a certain number of instructional minutes rather than instructional days. That same year, the Legislature passed a law that allows some districts to earn a distinction that allows them to exempt themselves from some state statutes, allowing some to hire teachers who lack certifications, start the school year earlier than the state-mandated start date, and institute larger class sizes without state approval.
Athens ISD would lengthen its school days to meet the state’s guidelines on minutes of instruction. Elementary school students would start their days at 7:45 a.m. and would end at 3:55 p.m. Students in high and middle school would report to first period at 8 a.m. and end the day at 4:25 p.m.
Sims and Stiles hope the shorter week will help the district attract teachers from other nearby districts that may offer higher salaries and provide staff with more professional development and planning days. Those, in turn, could help bolster student learning, Athens ISD said in a release.
“A vast amount of research indicates the single greatest factor in the academic success of a student is the teacher, bar none,” said Sims. “We believe this could help us compete with larger school districts and offer our employees a quality-of-life incentive that would be one-of-a-kind in Texas. Having the best teachers means having the best classroom instruction.”
Although the change theoretically could save districts money in transportation and heating and cooling costs, Athens ISD officials said those savings would be offset by “expenditures in other areas,” making the change “revenue neutral.”
“We have a history in this district of being bold, and it’s served us well,” Stiles said. “… This could be a phenomenal game changer for Athens ISD. We know there will be some hard questions. But if we believed this would have a negative impact on students, we wouldn’t be thinking about it.”
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