Parents, educators discuss pros, cons of proposed change to four-day week

HPS file photo
Wright school principals Derek Barnhurst (in black) and Kirby Baier (far right) talk to parents about a potential four-day school week back in May. 

By: 
Colin Tiernan colin@hpsentinel.com

The main gains? Kids spend more time with their regular teachers and more time in school overall. The potential concerns? The school day grows an hour longer and parents have to find ways to look after their kids on Fridays.
Wright parents, teachers, coaches and principals discussed the ins and outs of a four-day or alternative schedule Oct. 4. The Cottonwood Elementary meeting covered a wide range of advantages and disadvantages with a schedule that’s becoming increasingly common in Wyoming.
Here are the very basics of how it would work. With a true four-day school week you would have mostly four-day weeks with some three-day weeks. Each school day gets longer by an hour or more compared to the current schedule.
With an alternative schedule you’d see mostly four-day weeks with occasional three or five-day weeks. The occasional five-day weeks would allow for shorter days.
The reason for a schedule change would be to increase the amount of time students spend in front of teachers. Right now, athletic events can pull so many Wright students out of the classroom that the teacher is left with as few as five students in front of her.
Wright Junior/Senior High School has 191 students. Sometimes half of those kids are gone on a given day. 
“If you miss 100, what happens with the other 90 that are left in the building on a Friday?” Cottonwood Elementary Principal Derek Barnhurst said.
Wright educators emphasized that the town has excellent substitute teachers, but it’s still ideal to try and increase the amount of time kids spend with their primary teacher.
“We’re looking at bettering the time in front of kids,” Barnhurst said. “How can we put kids in front of teachers with  more quality time?”
Barnhurst and Wright Junior/Senior High School Principal Kirby Baier advocated for the change.
Barnhurst said he believes four-day school weeks either improve school performance, or don’t affect performance at all. He touted other advantages of four-day or alternative schedules, too. In addition to increasing the amount of time students spend in front of their primary teachers, a four-day or alternative week allows for scheduling flexibility around weather.
A schedule shift would also help with sports scheduling, because Wright is the only school in its league that hasn’t already made the switch.
Baier said that more time in the classroom is a win. In the past, he has pointed out that very little gets accomplished in the classroom on the Fridays where athletic commitments pull half of the student body out of school.
“If you have the regular teacher, (and you’re) keeping kids in the classroom, I don’t know how you can help but learn, I’ll be honest with you,”  Baier said. “I would guarantee that our kids would go to school more and be with their regular ed teacher more in a four day or alternative-type schedule.”
Natalie Prosenick, head girls basketball coach and assistant volleyball coach, also talked about the merits of a four-day week.
“There are 20-some schools in Wyoming on this schedule, and most of them, if not all of them, are at the top of the WY-TOPP,” Prosenick pointed out.    So obviously there’s merit to it.”
Barnhurst said that the only reason to make the change is for the sake of the kids.
“You don’t save money on it, it’s not a money thing,” he said.
There are potential cons to a switch as well. For one, longer school days can make it more difficult for kids to get their homework done and get enough sleep. Also, for kids who live farther away, and have longer bus rides, longer days can be exhausting. Another potential concern is how parents will find ways to occupy kids who aren’t in sports on the class-free Fridays.
The need for the switch stems from problems arising from sports. That doesn’t sit well with some, who feel that athletic concerns shouldn’t dominate the entire school schedule.
“I’m not trying to sound mean, but I don’t care about sports,” Megan Humiston said. “My kids aren’t in sports, they’re not affected by sports whatsoever, this is strictly about school time for me.”
School officials would like to have enough feedback to make a decision by November.
Barnhurst emphasized the need for community feedback,. Wright schools should be able to receive feedback from nearly every parent at upcoming parent teacher conferences. The schools will be putting out a poll that parents can respond to
“We really want as much input from the community as much as possible.”

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