What would a four-day school week look like in Winona? The question comes as Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) looks for ways to make a series of big budget cuts. Superintendent Scott Hannon brought the idea to the School Board last month as one of several "future considerations" in planning for a potential $750,000 in cuts for the 2014-15 budget year. WAPS maintains that the change to a short week would not have a big impact for schools, but it may be a different story for families and students—in particular families who would need to find childcare for a full day a week.
Switching to a four-day school week is projected to save the district $430,000 a year, in large part because of reduced bussing and energy costs. School days would be lengthened by a little less than two hours per day so that the number of instructional hours per week would remain constant. Most districts with a four-day week have school Tuesday through Friday.
The idea of a four-day school week has become a focal point of national education discussions. The Washington Post reports 292 school districts nationwide had a four-day week as of 2011. Advocates say shorter school weeks have a number of side benefits in addition to cutting costs, including reduced absenteeism because students can make doctors appointments, for example, on their weekday off.
On the other hand, opponents of the four-day week say that long school days and class periods make it harder for kids to stay focused and providing childcare is a huge burden for the parents of younger students.
"There isn't a lot of research out there, unfortunately," Winona Senior High School (WSHS) Principal Kelly Halverson said, making it hard to know what the right choice is.
"I think we have to look at: when is a school day too long? What is too much for our students to do in one day?" she continued. Class periods would be longer in a short-week schedule. At some point, Halverson said, classes would get too long for lecture-style teaching to hold students' attention and teachers would be challenged to find new ways of teaching and keeping students focused.
Students in extracurricular activities might face some changes if the district abridged its school week. If school days run later in the afternoon, students would miss more class time when they leave school for away games and events. "That would probably be the biggest impact," said WSHS Athletic Director Brad Berzinski.
Games and events would still be scheduled on that weekday off, and so working families might have trouble getting their kids to the high school on that day for transportation to away games.
If the final school bell and the opening whistle for practices are later, certain sports may run out of daylight, Berzinski added. For that reason, and the fact that many high school students have jobs starting at four o'clock, Berzinksi explained, the community would be better off starting secondary schools earlier in the morning, rather than running them later in the afternoon. "If you extend the school day much beyond 3:30, there's going to be an impact on local businesses."
Outside of those issues, however, it will be business as usual for activities and student participants, Berzinski said. In fact, the district might not see as great an energy savings at the high school because of teams using facilities during the weekday off, Halverson said.
How families with younger students would provide daycare for their children seems to be the biggest concern in discussions of a shortened school week. The School Board "would have to get some community feedback on…how it would impact families," Berzinski said.
"You have got to throw these things out there," Superintendent Scott Hannon said of the idea, conceding that a shortened week may be unpopular with the School Board. "The impact on the community would maybe outweigh the impact on our budget." However, it is something to think about, and several districts in Minnesota and elsewhere have seen success with a four-day week, he added.
Next year's budget may not require the anticipated $750,000 in reductions, depending on state discussions of whether to boost education funding and the school district's compensation negotiations with its faculty. If cuts of that size are needed, the School Board has a few options under Hannon's list of future considerations, including switching to grade-level elementary schools and building a new, district-wide elementary school; however, those proposals are likely to face resistance as well.