Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Southwest Michigan schools won’t switch to 4-day week

By BRANDON HOWELL
Capital News Service

LANSING – St. Joseph County school districts aren’t considering four-day school weeks, despite its growing popularity as a money-saving measure for hard-pressed districts.

Roger Rathburn, superintendent of Three Rivers Community Schools, said a four-day model raises community concerns.

“We need to consider the impact a four-day week would have on our parents,” he said. “Where would the kids go on Friday when a lot of parents work?”

The four-day model is gaining popularity in Michigan and nationally as it allows school districts to save thousands of dollars daily in operational expenses.

Rathburn said Three Rivers “in all likelihood wouldn’t” make such a scheduling shift, adding that many families would face difficulty taking care of their children during the off day.

Julie Evans, assistant superintendent of Sturgis Public Schools, shares that position.

“The idea of the four-day school week has been tossed around briefly, but we think that’s burdensome on our families,” she said. “As long as we can afford five days, we want to continue with that.”

Rathburn said another major concern about such an arrangement is its impact on the quality of education.

“I’m not sure how educationally sound that is,” he said. “I think if we did anything in the future to strengthen our curriculum and improve the performance of our kids, it would be to add more days.”

Evans said fewer days in class directly equates to less education.

“The important thing about learning is that we have adequate time for all students,” she said. “Kids don’t necessarily learn something the first time it’s presented to them. They need repetition. Anytime you take away that repetition, it has to affect education negatively.”

Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) – the state’s largest union of public school employees – said she also worries that the four-day model may harm education.

“I think it’s very detrimental to education to do that,” she said. “When you look at shortening the year, shortening the week for students, you are allowing more time for them to have where they are not in an organized learning environment.

“The reason for doing anything in education should be to support the learning of students – not just to save a buck,” she said.

However, Salters said the extra day off provided by a four-day school week could be useful if students were provided with enrichment opportunities to fill that time.

She said that wouldn’t be the case in most circumstances, though. “Most of our students are just going to be sitting at home, watching the tube.”

Doug Pratt, MEA director of communications, said a four-day week is a bad idea if it’s done in the name of economics.

“You have to be very careful how you make the adjustments and how you implement that to ensure it doesn’t hurt student learning,” he said. “Are the other opportunities there, is the enrichment there? Or are you just hacking time off the day to make it work?

“You’ve got to make sure students are getting the same, if not more, educational opportunities,” he said.

Pratt said most Michigan districts with four-day weeks cover expansive geographic regions, such as the Republic-Michigamme, Ewen-Trout Creek and Adams Township districts in the Upper Peninsula.

Earlier this year, Atlanta Community Schools eliminated Friday classes and added more than 1½ hours on Mondays through Thursdays. The district is in Montmorency County west of Alpena.

“In some of the districts, you can have a student on a bus for an hour and a half each way to school,” he said. “That’s one reason those districts have looked at the four-day school week – cutting down the transit time for students.”

Rathburn said the Three Rivers district could save almost $10,000 for each day it doesn’t have school. Even with that economic incentive, he said the alternative model doesn’t interest his or other local districts.

“We share a number of programs together throughout the county,” he said. “The two biggest are special education programming and vocational programming.”

Local districts send students with significant disabilities to the St. Joseph County Intermediate School District in Centreville for special education. Vocational students also go there for a program called Career Technical Education that provides training in automotives, computers and other fields.

“Instead of everybody trying to offer everything, we combine our resources and offer more vocational programs,” Rathburn said. “If Three Rivers changed to a four-day school week, it’d be hard for our kids to participate in those programs.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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