Board discusses four-day school week

Cynthia Sheeley/Torrington Telegram Parent Joshua Kruger making the first comments at the podium.

‘What could we do for the kids?’

GOSHEN COUNTY – Goshen County School District (GCSD) held the first of two public forums on Thursday, Jan. 19, at Torrington High School’s (THS) Auditorium to discuss alternative calendars, including a four-day week option. 

“Welcome to tonight’s meeting,” Chairman Michael Sussex began. “The purpose of tonight’s meeting is to hear questions and comments related to alternative calendars. In order for a district to have less than 175 school days and move to count the minutes of a school day, the board must hold two public hearings relating to alternative calendars.”

Many of the community’s parents and school faculty were present for this forum to ask questions and to learn more about these options. 

Calendar committee member and Southeast Principal Tim Williams provided an overview of the two proposed calendars. While the school board could vote to not make any major changes to the school’s 2023-2024 calendar, at this time they are considering a four-day week option or a balanced option.

“So, the four-day option, our hours would be very similar to now,” William explained. “We currently go 1,055 hours in the classroom, and it would be very similar to that. Right now, we’re looking at 8 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but that decision has not been made yet. If we go to the four-day calendar, there would be 152 days that students would be in school, like we have now.”

On the draft for the four-day week option, the proposed first day of school would be Aug. 21 and the proposed last day of school would be May 24. On this calendar, there are fewer breaks throughout the school year. The only significant breaks are for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. More than half of the Fridays, 23 out of 40, are marked green to be designated as enrichment or intervention days.

“All those green Fridays would be enrichment Fridays,” Williams continued. “There will be teachers working with kids from 8 to 9:30 or 10 a.m. Paras would come in during that time, and they would cover the kids from 10 a.m. to noon. The practice program who we’ve worked with during this whole process will take over at noon and go to 5:30 p.m.”

These Friday interventions/workdays will be used to help children who are struggling in classes, similar to summer school, schedule meetings with parents and provide teachers a scheduled time to work on lesson plans, grading, etc. Also, by removing Fridays from the regular schedule, there will be fewer students and teachers missing school for sporting and other academic events. If a student does not need intervention, they would not have to attend school on those days. Limited bus routes would be available on these days and lunch will be served.

“We understand that there’s a need for childcare,” Williams said. “We’ve been very cognizant of that this whole time. It has been a topic of conversation at every single one of our meetings. We don’t have all of the answers, some of the things are going to have to be decided by the board.”

The potential plan would be for students to be able to attend intervention days or enrichment time and then attend the practice program for the rest of the day.

Williams said there is another problem leading to the idea of a four-day calendar, he said, “We are starting to lose teaching candidates to districts with four-day calendars. Cory was trying to hire a position this year, he got four candidates and two of them turned him down because they went to a district with a four-day calendar.”

Teachers have a lot of responsibilities and work required of them but are lacking the time in their workday to complete it. A four-day week could help them have more time to complete work uninterrupted, while also reducing teacher burnout.

“The other option is what we call the balanced option,” Williams explained. “It has a couple of added big breaks, one after the first quarter and one after the third quarter. During the first week of those breaks students that need intervention would come in. We would use summer school money to pay teachers to work with kids during that time.” 

On the draft for the balanced option, the proposed first day of school would be Aug. 21 and the proposed last day of school would be Jun. 7. On this calendar, there are three two-week breaks throughout the school year. These breaks are after the end of the first quarter, Christmas and after the third quarter. The two breaks at the end of the first and third quarters are designated as intervention days.

“(This calendar would let us) do some of those interventions, credit recovery and catching kids up early in the year, instead of waiting for summer school at the end of the year,” Williams continued. “If you need those interventions, you would come in during that time. If you don’t you would get a long fall and spring break.”

These breaks would also be a time when families could take hunting trips, visit family and/or go on vacations.

“This is a 175-day calendar just like we do now,” Williams said. “This calendar would not need state approval, but the other one would.”

According to the provided information, Wyoming state statute requires students to have the following in-seat class time, 900 hours for elementary, 950 hours for middle school and 1,000 hours for high school. Currently, Goshen County students go to school for a total of 1,055 hours. The four-day calendar option would drop the hours slightly to 1,053.7 total hours, while the balanced calendar option would not make any changes.

William said Goshen County staff are contracted for 1,387.5 hours per year. While the balanced calendar would fulfill this contract, the four-day calendar would be slightly lower. However, Williams said they would work together to ensure that all faculty get their hours or renegotiate salaries to maintain current pay.

If the four-day calendar is approved, there is a state requirement that states that every two years a survey is to be sent out. This survey will evaluate the popularity of the four-day calendar. If its popularity is low, the school is required to consider other options.

Parent Joshua Kruger was the first to make comments at the podium. 

He said, “In a previous meeting, I’d heard that the proposed calendars may involve a trimester. My concern with high school students is that if they are taking college classes at the college, the college works on a semester. If we enact a trimester, then there’s going to be gaps in the high school students that are taking college classes at the college, where the schedule will not fit properly.”

In response to this, Superintendent Ryan Kramer said at this time they have not decided to settle on trimesters or semesters. The committee will have more discussions later on about this topic.

Another one of Kruger’s concerns was whether they would be able to change the sports calendar to schedule games on Fridays and Saturdays. One of the many motivations for this option is reducing the number of days athletes and coaches are absent from school. While there are schools in the area on a four-day calendar, there are also still many schools on traditional schedules. 

Kramer responded by saying that they are aware the schedule will not be flawless for the first few years, however, they will do what they can to minimize the number of events on school nights.

Parent Jamie Mehling also voiced concerns. 

“The same teachers that are missing school on Friday afternoon, are now going to be missing Friday interventions, as well as kids who might need interventions,” Mehling said. 

Lingle-Ft. Laramie School Principal Cory Gilchriest responded to Mehling saying there are fewer situations where athletic teams need to be gone all day on Friday. In most cases, the teams are required to leave by midday Friday, which would allow them to attend the morning interventions. 

“Another one of my concerns is if kids, especially high school kids, are not going to be required to go on Friday, they won’t,” Mehling said. “If they’re not putting in the time during the week, do you really think they’re going to show up on Friday morning?”

“I don’t disagree, Jamie, on students not coming on Friday,” Kramer responded. “I think it’s really important to focus on the ones that would be there. What could we do for those students? What could we do for the kids on Fridays if we had that time to spend more one on one time with them? What could we do to expand their learning opportunities and get them to where we want them to be?”

Other concerns voiced during this forum included: how young children will handle longer school days; how late will practice run if school ends later; should things be removed from teachers’ workloads to help prevent burnout; will the backpack program be extended; and would there be some type of attendance taken so parents can be notified if a child isn’t present. 

A few of these questions cannot be fully answered until more information is gathered. In regard to teacher burnout, it was said the only real solution would be to hire more teachers, but there is not enough funding from the state. The backpack program will be extended to include any extra days. Concerning attendance, it was said while students will not be required to show up on intervention days, they will utilize some type of sign-up sheet. If a student is signed up for the day but is not present, their parents will be notified.

The last public forum on this topic will be held on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at the THS auditorium. The February meeting will be held at its regularly scheduled date and time on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Central Administration office.

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