Can Shoshone schools teach students more in less time? District aims to find out

2011-06-01T01:45:00Z 2011-06-01T07:25:36Z Can Shoshone schools teach students more in less time? District aims to find outBy Amy Huddleston - Times-News writer Twin Falls Times-News

Three-day weekends are on the horizon for Shoshone students after the district’s 2011-12 calendar was approved Thursday.

The new school week was nicknamed “four plus one” by school administrators in an attempt to describe the changes headed to schools — students will receive four weekly days of instructional learning followed by a day of various activities and learning opportunities. Transportation won’t be provided on Fridays, but extra tutoring and other activities will be available at the Shoshone school.

The district will save money with the change, but district chief Rob Waite said that more importantly, students will gain instructional time.

“It’s not 100 percent about cost savings, but a way to meet our district’s goals,” he said, adding that savings will only scrape about $120,000 from next year’s budget.

Costs for transportation and classified employees will be cut, but Waite said the plan will add as much as 55.25 hours of classroom instruction for middle school students over the course of the year.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Shoshone is among the growing number of school districts across the U.S. that have moved or are moving toward a four-day school week. More than 120 school districts in 20 states currently operate on a four-day week, and more districts are eyeing it as an option as they sort out shrinking budgets.

Four-day school weeks aren’t new in south-central Idaho, either. Three Creek and Gooding school districts both participate in the realignment of time and education, and while the move includes both benefits and drawbacks, Gooding School District Superintendent Heather Williams said it has worked well for her schools.

Williams said that in 2009-10, the district’s first year with the new format, student attendance increased and teachers took fewer days off. That reduced costs for substitute teachers.

Williams also attributes school days that are about 40 minutes longer to better test scores. The district hit its Adequate Yearly Progress mark for the first time last year, as Gooding students beat state averages in language, reading and math proficiency in the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

The new calendar is working, Williams said, but community support has made the difference.

When Gooding educators started discussing dropping Friday classes two years ago, a variety of Gooding institutions gathered to discuss options for students who would need somewhere to go on Fridays. From the public library and the College of Southern Idaho North Side Center to churches and the Boy Scouts of America, various organizations have provided new options for students who need positive activities.

For Gooding School Board Chairwoman Tracie Anderson, a stay-at-home mother of three young children, the longer weekends have been what she calls a “nice balance.”

“It was easy. I love it and my kids love it. We spend more time together as a family,” she said. “I didn’t see any test score problems. Ninety percent of parents seem to really like it and everyone has found a way that works for them. The day cares have adjusted to work with people too.”

The change also lengthened class periods to 70 minutes in Gooding, which seventh-grade language arts teacher Janet Dotson said creates a more efficient environment for teachers and students.

“I teach harder, I really do,” she said. “You have to be smarter about everything. Those 70-minute classes make so much more sense for teaching and for kids. It makes us teach better lessons and be more innovative in the classroom.”

Scott Rogers, Minidoka School District superintendent, said a district’s choice to move to four-day weeks is individualized and may work well for smaller, rural school districts. But he said schools shouldn’t move toward longer weekends if saving money is the main goal.

“You better do it because it philosophically fits the needs of your school like a glove,” he said, adding that cost savings for utilities are low and most savings comes from cutting hours of classified employees like paraprofessionals, custodians and bus drivers. His district will continue to operate on a traditional school week next year.

“It’s a very slippery slope,” he said of the change. “I have to ask myself if it would be good for the community if those employees lost wages.”

Williams said that the change added more than 100 hours of instructional time in Gooding, and she would recommend the four-day schedule to other districts if their communities back it.

“It really takes the whole community,” she said. “It allows us to think of time differently. Usually we think of time as the constant and learning as the variable, but this allows us to think of learning as the constant and time as the variable.”

Amy Huddleston may be reached at ahuddleston@magicvalley.com or 735-3204.

Copyright 2014 Twin Falls Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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