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Lincoln considers four-day school week

Proposal calls for taking off Mondays by Lynn Kutter | March 8, 2023 at 1:10 p.m.
Lynn Kutter/Enterprise-Leader Mary Ann Spears, superintendent of Lincoln schools, left, talks during a community forum Friday about a proposal to have a four-day school week next year. Another public meeting was held Tuesday, (March 7).

LINCOLN -- About 50 people attended the first of two community forums Friday morning on a proposal to change to a four-day week for the 2023-24 school year. The second community meeting was held Tuesday (March 7).

Mary Ann Spears, superintendent of Lincoln schools, went through a 15-slide presentation on the proposal. Principals and assistant principals also spoke about how a four-day week would look at their buildings.

The district hosted the public forums, Spears said, to be transparent, to explain why the school is proposing the change and allow parents to ask questions.

After the forum, Spears said the school board will consider a proposed four-day schedule at its March 13 meeting.

Spears acknowledged to those at the forum that a driving force behind the proposal is the retention and recruitment of teachers for Lincoln Consolidated School District. She said Lincoln is struggling to retain teachers and to hire teachers.

"We have teachers that drive in from Lowell and Bentonville, and spend an hour on the road each way getting to us," Spears said. "That's part of the piece of this. If we can do something a little bit differently and structure ourselves differently, hopefully we can recruit and retain more teachers."

As an example, Lincoln has had a long-term substitute for a special education position since October because it has not been able to hire anyone for the job.

Other possible positive impacts from a four-day week, Spears said, would be an improvement in staff and student attendance, a decline in the rate of student dropout, improve the "culture and climate" of the district, financial savings, increase in enrollment from families wanting a four-day week and either increasing or at least maintaining student achievement.

Financially, Spears said, the district spends quite a bit of money on substitutes, and she said staff believes the district would save money because teachers would be absent fewer days. Savings also would come from lower utility costs and lower transportation costs.

The district is proposing to have school Tuesday-Friday and add about an hour and 20 minutes to each day, with the extra time being placed on both ends of a school day. The district is required to have 1,800 minutes of instruction per week and these minutes would be spread out over four days, instead of five days, Spears said.

"Those four days will be very protected instructional time," Spears said.

Spears said teachers at all three schools have indicated they support a four-day week and overwhelmingly, staff preferred Monday as the day off. Schools would use some Mondays as professional development days for teachers and Mondays also would be used as teacher-parent conference days.

Mondays make the most sense, Spears said, because students and teachers are absent the most on Mondays. In addition, having Mondays off would allow teachers and parents to schedule appointments, provide more family time and possibly provide more job opportunities for high school students.

Fridays are not as good, she said, because of ball games, special school activities, such as pep rallies, and because many doctors and dentists close their offices on Fridays for either part of the day or all day.

Spears went over concerns with a four-day week and some of these same concerns were expressed by parents at the forum. In particular, younger students would have longer school days. Working parents would have to figure out childcare on Mondays and students from homes in need would have fewer school meals with a four-day week.

Her presentation included possible solutions to the concerns: spread out recess breaks throughout the day for younger students, have additional snacks in the afternoon for all students and increase the backpack program to provide additional food for the extra day out of school.

Also, Spears said, with a longer school day, more parents may be able to pick up their children from school or they would be at home when their children got off the school bus.

Jana Claybrook, the district's learning services director, assured those at the meeting that all concerns would be considered and the district would look for ways to address concerns.

As an example, one person talked about allowing high school students to help with childcare on Mondays.

Spears said childcare at the school might be an option, but noted this has been done in other districts with four-day weeks and over time, participation fell as parents found their own solutions to childcare.

Spears said a four-day week would not affect athletics and extracurricular activities, and coaches and others already are discussing ways to help those students who might need help getting to practice, a ballgame or other activity. Athletics most likely will practice all five days each week.

Deon Birkes, athletic and transportation director, said he took several of his coaches to visit two districts and ask questions. One of these coaches did not like the idea but after talking to staff at Atkins and Mayflower, the coach said he felt much better about a four-day week, Birkes said.

Birkes said he already is looking at bus routes to make them more efficient next year and get students home as soon as possible.

Other school staff also have visited districts using a four-day calendar to ask questions and get more information.

In Arkansas, 29 school districts presently use a four-day week and others are looking at the option for next year, Spears said. Some schools with the four-day schedule include Atkins, Bigelow, Bismarck, Mayflower, Kirby, Trumann, Cutter-Morning Star and Perryville.

In all, she said, more than 1,600 districts in 25 states use a four-day school week.

The presentation included proposed daily schedules for each of the schools. The elementary school would start at 7:35 a.m. and end at 3:55 p.m. Middle school would start at 7:40 a.m. and end at 3:54 p.m. High school would start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.

The proposed calendar for a four-day week shows the first day of school will be Aug. 15 and the last day May 17, with May 21-24 built in as make-up days. The number of days off for Thanksgiving break, Christmas break and Spring Break would be the same as previous years. Spears said the district does not plan to use AMI days or alternative method of instruction, for days missed because of inclement weather, if that is approved by the state.

Several at the forum said they supported the proposed schedule.

"I agree with this," one woman said. "This will be amazing."

Adam Tarelton, senior pastor of First Baptist Lincoln, thanked administrators for all the work they had put into the proposal.

"We value how much you value our teachers and our students as well," Tarelton. "I trust you with the solution."

He recommended the district seriously consider a Monday childcare option for parents, even if it is just provided for a transition period.

Another parent, Heather Keenan, also said she supported the proposal, adding she has friends in schools with four-day weeks and it has been good for them.

"They (teachers) need that extra day, to be refreshed and ready for another day," Keenan said. "I think it would be better for everyone, for families, for parents, for kids."

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