The Wharton ISD Board of Trustees on Thursday opened a discussion about moving the school district to a four-day school week.
Deputy Superintendent Denise Ware gave a presentation on the benefits of a four-day school week based on her research and campus visits she and other WISD officials have done with districts already doing it. Additionally, the district emailed parents with a survey, due Wednesday, Jan. 25, regarding the four-day school week.
“We met with that district superintendent, their entire administrative team, each of the campus principals, to explore and ask questions about the four-day school week. Two of the districts that we’ve been in consultation with have had a four-day school week for three years, and another one is currently planning on implementing it for next school year,” Superintendent Michael O’Guin Sr. said while introducing the agenda item.
Ware began by giving a history of four-day school weeks, noting that it began in the 1930s in South Dakota and has gained popularity across other states.
“In 1985, 50-55% of Colorado schools began adopting the four-day school week and they have been doing it since,” she said.
She said the four-day week has been growing in popularity in Texas, primarily with smaller, rural schools.
“Currently, 41 Texas schools have adopted the four-day school week that’s recorded on record. They have an additional three that’s not actually recorded by the person that did the research. We’ve done our discovery meeting with Liberty ISD. We did that almost two weeks ago now that we’ve talked to that district that has been doing this since 2021,” she said.
Ware highlighted the benefits to the district.
“So first of all, can a four-day a school we help districts save money? Yes… Is it significant? Is it a large increase in savings? No, it isn’t. So I’m not going to tell you any stories, I’m gonna be very transparent. It’s not a huge savings, but it is some,” she said.
She said cost savings can be found in the areas of transportation, cafeteria, and utilities. There are also cost savings in personnel, especially with a decrease in the use of substitute teachers and bus drivers.
Ware said the shortening of the week actually increases the time students are in school through the lengthening of the remaining four days to eight hours.
“We’re talking about shortening the week, but we’re not talking about shortening the minutes that they visit with students,” she said. “So a lot of people are worried about, ‘oh, they won’t go to school in the same amount of time.’ In essence, for this plan, they’re actually going to go to school longer. So that means they would have more time to dive deeper into the curriculum with the students.
“And then of course, time management for teachers. We heard a lot of success stories from Liberty ISD, where those teachers were excited about having a Friday where they could actually plan, grade papers, create tests, and not be rushed and not have a weekend (off),” she said.
Ware said that Fridays tend to be unproductive days anyway with all of the extracurricular activities the students are involved in, particularly sports. She said Fridays can be used as days for teachers to meet with students needing extra help rather than on Saturdays. She said Fridays can be used as make up days if needed. Fridays can also be used for staff development days.
Among the benefits Ware touted were improved drop-out rates and drops in disciplinary referrals and absenteeism.
“So Liberty ISD, what worked for them, student dropout rates declined significantly. Student disciplinary referrals decreased. Student achievement, they said was not affected. Student and teacher attendance actually improved,” Ware said. “You’re not asking people to come five days you’re talking about four-days. And Fridays are the greatest number of absences. Not only the students, but teachers too. So that would help decrease the attendance problems that we do have as well as substitutes, as we hardly ever find substitutes on Fridays, just because they want to take off to,” she said.
A key area that Ware highlighted was recruitment. She said a shorter work week is enticing to teachers and students alike. Ware said some smaller districts were able to recruit teachers from larger districts for less money because of the shorter work week.
After her presentation members of the board of trustees seemed skeptical and asked a lot of questions.
“My question is, what is this going to do to parents at work?” asked Doris Teague. “They’re going to have to be out either babysitters or they’re going to leave the children at home by themselves. And when we get into high school what are they gonna be doing, running in the streets getting in trouble?”
“We have Boys and Girls Club that has supported by our students on all of the current Fridays that we’re out,” Ware answered. “As of right now every month, we have a Friday (off). They are in addition to the other holidays that are implemented in the calendar. So basically, we are almost working on this four-day school week already. So it’s not far-fetched from what we currently doing,” she said.
She noted that many teenagers would be able to gain additional employment with the extra day off, adding the some of them contribute significantly to the family income.
Trustee Philip Henderson noted that daycare is expensive and hard to find in Wharton. Trustee Ann Witt felt that a longer school day would decrease productivity.
“Well, most people agree that for when people are either working or in school, that the early hours of the day are the most productive, because people are fresh, whether you’re a worker or a student,” she said. “And as the day goes on, most people get less productive. So I think to lengthen the school day for these students would be not a good thing. I think it will be a disaster for working families. I echo what Ms. Teague and Mr. Henderson commented on. I think it’ll be a disaster.”
Superintendent O’Guin said that the four-day week helps with teacher retention, which is one of the constraints the board placed on him.
“Teacher retention, that is the number one thing when we talk to Liberty (ISD), or we talk to Jasper (ISD), you know, or whatever it is teacher retention. And so I just don’t want us to let this fall on deaf ears because it’s really important to this team of eight, then I think we need to have an open mind and open discussion,” he said.
The board took no action and will resume discussion at another time.