Calendar committee fields questions at second four-day hearing

Crystal R. Albers/Torrington Telegram Four-Day School Week Committee member Cory Gilchriest answers questions from attendees at the second and final public hearing regarding the proposed schedule change at Torrington High School Auditorium Tuesday evening.

TORRINGTON – The four-day school week proposal will be up for vote at the next regular Goshen County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees’ meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Central Administration Building, Chair Katherine Patrick informed the crowd at the second and final public hearing regarding the change this week.

Q&A

Lingle-Fort Laramie Schools Principal Cory Gilchriest, a member of the Four-Day School Week Committee, kicked off Tuesday evening’s event at Torrington High School Auditorium by fielding questions from attendees.

The proposal originated because of concerns regarding the amount of time staff spend out of the classroom, Gilchriest explained.  Lingle-Fort Laramie for example loses 553 hours of instruction due to collegial meetings (collaborations during which educators determine standards and common assessments, consider data, and identify methods that work to impact students district-wide).

“We were trying to figure out a structure to continue that work without losing class time,” Gilchriest said. “It’s a challenge for all of us. We agree it’s valuable time we can’t give up.”

In response to a question about potential programs on Fridays should the district move to a four-day school week, Gilchriest said it is difficult to secure commitments to programs “without there being a commitment to (the four-day school week).” But there have been conversations with the PRACTICE after-school program, GEARUP, and district staff about providing enrichment and remediation activities.

Another attendee asked about activity schedules during the four-day school week. Committee member Mike Lashley told the Telegram the goal would be to move as many extracurricular activities to Friday and Saturday as possible.

“However, it is not possible to schedule all (middle school) and (high school) activities only on those two days,” he said. “We do not have the facilities to do that effectively, and there are not enough officials to cover all of the events that would need to be scheduled in two days. It is important to note that SEWAC schools Pine Bluffs, Glenrock, and Burns are already on a four-day calendar – Lusk is also considering it – and we have already begun looking at ways to improve the way we have traditionally scheduled, especially at the middle-school level.

“I would also throw Thursday into that mix for student activities, as well,” Lashley continued. “Since there would be no school for students on Friday, games could be played on Thursday nights (similar to Friday nights currently). We would just need to schedule game times later to account for the later dismissal of the four-day week.

“I would also like to point out that the majority of the current L-FL high school basketball games are scheduled on Friday and Saturday nights.”

Residents who attended the second public hearing also questioned if collegial meetings could be moved to Friday afternoons, to which Gilchriest explained it would cost the district more money to make this change. Others expressed concerns about younger students having a longer school day – Gilchriest said this is an issue, and has considered moving center-based activities to the end of the day, although the decision would likely be up to the discretion of individual teachers.

Several attendees said they worry about a negative impact the change might make academically, based on research they’ve done on other schools using four-day week schedules.

“This isn’t going to change our goals, we’re still striving for proficiency no matter what,” Gilchriest said. He added later choosing to make the switch to a four-day school week next year does not mean the district would have to stay with the schedule indefinitely if it did not prove successful.

Concerns

Many individuals spoke against the proposal, including parents and GCSD No. 1 employees. Michele Toedter, long-time food-service worker, and Nancy Cline, bus driver for the district, both said the change would affect them financially. Toedter called the loss of pay and benefits “catastrophic,” and Cline pleaded, “I know they’re trying to find a solution to a real problem – I just beg the committee to consider all of the real problems out there.”

Among the several parents who took the microphone Tuesday evening, were Andrea Wunibald and Tricia Otten.

Wunibald said her first concern is academics, stating test scores have improved in the district. She fears a dramatic change may have a negative effect.

“We’re doing good things in the district, change may be bad,” she said.

Otten questioned the parent survey conducted by the district last year, arguing it missed several population groups; spoke on the financial burden the move would cause for families requiring extra childcare; and said district grades should be more proficient before considering the four-day school week.

“The proposal should have never made it this far,” she said.

‘We can adapt’

Those in support also included parents and GCSD employees. 

Lingle resident Paula Newcomb emphasized it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their children are not falling behind during breaks (there were concerns with a longer weekend, students would retain less), in addition to adjusting bedtimes to make certain students aren’t tired (in reference to worries that 25 minutes extra each day would result in exhausted kids), and monitoring students when they aren’t in school (some worried crime rates would increase).

“We have to adapt to change,” she said, thanked the calendar committee and school board for their time, and called the need for daycares “a business opportunity. We need to think outside the box – there are lots of options out there.”

Kelly Foster, mother, agreed it is not the school district’s responsibility to instill a work ethic in students and monitor children.

“As a community, we will adapt to having a four-day school week,” she said. “We figured out how to adapt to summer schedules … I believe it will enhance our quality of life.”

Shaylee Mortimore, parent, as well as a teacher and coach in the district, brought up several potential benefits of the change, including the three-day weekend resulting in more well-rested students; additional opportunities for high-school students to secure jobs if they are available three days a week versus two; scheduling court appearances for Fridays and therefore not pulling students from school for juvenile hearings; and various activity options, such as dance and remediation.

She added the change would require her – in her role as teacher and coach – to be at the school and practices later, but said ultimately it would allow teachers and administrators to be present, and students to better focus on their work during the week, calling it “more beneficial academically”.

Words for the board

To conclude the hearing, John Patrick, who has served on the Eastern Wyoming College Board of Trustees for 20 years, advised the GCSD board to approach the issue carefully.

He said the number of students applying to college who require remediation in English or mathematics has grown exponentially over the last 30 years.

“I’m not one of those people who believe teachers aren’t as good as they once were … I firmly believe that teachers today are better than they have been in history,” Patrick said. “GCSD is not the problem.”

He added the issue is financially detrimental to students, who often have to attend five semesters, instead of four, at EWC.

“This is a situation that not only should not exist, it absolutely certainly cannot be allowed to become worse,” he said. “So, as you think about what to do, I would hope that you would operate from a background of some certainty … if you have good evidence … I would urge you, be rigorous in finding out what the right
thing to do is.”

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