Two Boone County school districts are planning moves to a four-day week, joining the Harrisburg School District, which made the change in 2011.

The Sturgeon Board of Education voted unanimously on Jan. 13 to begin using a four-day week this fall, Superintendent Geoff Neill said. The Hallsville Board of Education will consider the question in a special meeting Feb. 4.

For Sturgeon, the move is a way to attract and retain teachers, Neill said. Last year, the district lost some long-time teachers to a district with a four-day schedule and to Columbia Public Schools, which offers higher pay. With 433 students, Sturgeon has the smallest enrollment in the county.

The Hallsville School District has a study group of parents, teachers and other school personnel looking at the issue.

In a survey of parents, a slim majority – 51.2 percent – favored or strongly favored a four-day school week. More than 34 percent of parents opposed or strongly opposed the proposal. Among teachers and staff, 56 percent favored the switch and 8 percent opposed it. Another 21 percent was undecided.

Hallsville Mayor Logan Carter is a parent in the school district's study group. He has twin children in kindergarten and a second-grader. Despite his work on the study group for several months, he said he's still undecided on the issue.

With more than 1,400 students, Carter said Hallsville would be one of the largest districts in the state on a four-day schedule. Warren County Schools with 3,150 students is the largest.

"We are different than a lot of other districts going to four days," Carter said, referring to the district's size. "We are experiencing growth year over year."

At the same time, Columbia Public Schools officials are considering making Blue Ridge Elementary School year-round starting in June 2022.

MIXED RESULTS

School districts considering a four-day week to appeal to teachers and parents are on solid footing based on the research, but not for saving money or improving academic performance, said Jon Turner, an assistant professor of education leadership at Missouri State University in Springfield.

Turner maintains the online Four-Day School Week Resource Center with links to a map of the 61 Missouri districts currently using a four-day week, research and other information. The number of districts on the shorter week almost doubled this year, increasing by 28 from 33 districts on the plan in the 2018-19 school year.

He lists key research findings on his website — little long-term academic impact, a maximum financial saving of less than 5 percent and strongly supported by parents and staff.

Turner also consults with districts considering a four-day schedule.

"Overwhelmingly the staff supported the four-day week, even those who had lost income because of the switch," Turner said of one study he co-authored.

In another study he co-authored, business owners in towns with schools on a four-day schedule were surveyed. It determined the school schedule had no economic impact.

In that study, people who no longer had children in school or never had children in school were strongly opposed to the practice, in what Turner called one of the most interesting findings of his research.

"Some of that could be generational," he said.

One article Turner co-authored looked parent perceptions after the first year of a four-day school week in three districts within 60 miles of one another. A survey had 584 parent responses, and support for the move was high among most parent groups. Those who supported it, but at a lower level, were parents of students with special education plans and parents of early elementary-aged children.

Academic achievement is impossible to measure in Missouri because of the ever-changing measures, Turner said.

Other research is mixed.

"This study identified serious declines in achievement in rural schools in a western state where the four-day school week has become a trend" reads a 2015 study authored by professors from the University of Montana and a Montana superintendent.

"Existing data on the effect of the four-day week on student achievement have been inconclusive," reads a 2012 education policy brief by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. "Some districts report student academic gains after moving to a four-day schedule, while others report only slight increases or no change at all."

"It's a wash," Turner said  of improved academic achievement. "In the first two or three years, there's sometimes a short-term positive impact. In years one, two and three schools are highly invested in making this work."

Very little money is saved by making the switch, he said.

"The money is not there," he said. "Most districts when they roll this out save small amounts on transportation."

NEXT STEPS

The Sturgeon district considered the four-day schedule a few years ago, Neill said.

When turnover prompted the school board to consider it again, a parent survey found 65 percent favored the change.

Neill said his district has had more teacher applicants in the past than it has now.

"This is just a way to recruit new applicants," he said.

Sturgeon is adding 45 minutes to the end of each day, increasing classroom time from 1,081 hours this year to 1,104 hours.

Nicole Miller, mother of a first-grader and a fourth-grader in Sturgeon, said she doesn't have any reservations about the decision.

"I'm excited about it," she said. "My kids are excited about it. I think it's going to be good for our small school district and help us attract teachers."

The state Board of Education is pushing to increase minimum teacher pay to $32,000 from $25,000 to help districts to compete for teachers. Gov. Mike Parson said in his State of the State speech that he wants to increase teacher pay but did not specifically endorse the state board's plan.

At the Hallsville Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Steve Combs, superintendent at Harrisburg discussed his district's experience.

"It really turned our school around as far as morale," Combs said. "Teacher retention and teacher attraction has been the biggest benefit."

The community has approved bond issues and tax levy increases since instituting the four-day week, he said. The high school has expanded its offering of dual-credit courses with local colleges and universities.

"People really enjoy the school experience," he said.

Concerns about child care on Mondays when school isn't in session has taken care of itself when parents found solutions on their own, Combs said.

Hallsville school board member Craig Stevenson said he's concerned that there would be one fewer day a week when teachers could influence students.

"We don't see our kids five days," Combs replied. "That's probably the biggest negative."

Carter said his most important issues are child care and food security for students.

Sturgeon plans to increase the size or number of "buddy packs" — food sent home with students for weekend meals — it requests from the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri. The Hallsville district has discussed a similar solution.

Carter was at Tuesday's school board meeting where Combs spoke and said he disagreed with Combs' contention that parents would figure out child care on their own. Carter operates a child care center with his mother.

"I'm just not comfortable with it," he said of Combs' statement.

The school board is armed with a lot of information, Carter said.

"I believe the school board is going to make a well-informed and conscious decision," he said.

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com

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