• District believes switch will help attract applicants
HUMBOLDT — USD 258 has laid the groundwork for a possible switch to a four-day school week.
While details of the potential transition remain murky, Superintendent Amber Wheeler attempted to preview the framework of a four-day school week during a public forum Wednesday night.
The district will miss the March 1 deadline for submission of its 2023-24 school calendar, with the Board of Education having approved a new deadline of April 15. While Wheeler said the missed deadline was policy and not statute-based, Wheeler did not cite the four-day school week as the primary reason for missing the deadline, noting during Monday’s BOE meeting that it was not on her “thought process.”
While the four-day school week has been popular with most districts that have made the transition, Wednesday’s forum at the Humboldt High School cafeteria drew mixed reviews.
Prior to the forum, Wheeler told The Tribune that the district began its investigation into a four-day week in August and presented those findings to the board in December, which included input from districts that have made the switch. The findings were brought forth by a committee that included district personnel, stakeholders and indviduals from local businesses.
“The committee identified two major areas of purpose — teacher retention and recruitment – as well as mental health for students and staff,” Wheeler said. “Those districts that we have talked to that have done it have seen progress in those areas.”
The district’s national education association representative, Scott Brady, is a strong proponent of the change. Brady told The Tribune that prospective applicants may view a four-day work week as attractive, and that it would help to alleviate the district’s applicant shortage. He added that the district has only fielded interest from a handful of unqualified candidates of late.
“It’s a huge problem and it’s only getting worse,” he said.
Board President Josh Wrestler echoed those sentiments.
“The teacher pool is now a hot tub. There are not nearly as many teachers coming out of college,” he said. “The hot button topic is recruitment and retention of teachers.”
Wheeler said that times are changing as far as what teachers value.
“It used to be about money. The driver was salary,” she said, relaying info she gleaned from the research process. “That driver has now changed and it’s now time. Time is a drive for people coming out of college, as much or more than money.”
Wrestler has visited with officials from several districts that have made the transition.
“Most of them did it for financial reasons,” he said, noting that the schools were Southern Coffey County, West Elk and Bluestem.
A move to a four-day calendar will alter the start time of class days, and likely tack on an extra week to the school year.
“We’re adding 15 minutes to the school day, but we will also have to add days to that calendar,” Wheeler said in response to a question. “That will have to happen.”
An audience member who declined to identify herself said that her kids “were scared of a four-day school week” as it may impede their overall learning ability.
Concerns over pay and salary schedule were broached.
“Our starting salary is the highest in Southeast Kansas, and the highest daily rates that I’ve found so far,” Wheeler said.
Seemingly the biggest issue amongst those opposed to the potential plan was childcare and the added cost that a four-day school week would bring.
Wrestler tried to assuage those fears by noting that the districts with which he had spoken indicated that it was rough in the beginning, but things eventually smoothed out and remained that way.
“It started out pretty hot and heavy, but about a year into it, those (issues) went away,” he said.
Wheeler said that she had spoken with a local daycare provider about it, but offered little in the way of details.
Audience member Tessa Morris, who has two young children in the district, said she supports the change.
“The daycare factor is one of the biggest elements, especially for the elementary-schoolers, but I feel like as long as they put a program in place where the kids go, that it will work out just fine,” she said. “For the parents who can stay home or work from home, having that extra day off is nice.”
Andy Neria, the parent of two district children, said he was still on the fence.
“Nobody has been able to tell me how a four-day schedule is going to benefit the students,” he said. “When I get that answer, I will make a better-informed decision. Right now, I cannot make a decision because I have not been told that information.
“I’m not against it, but I have the same amount of answers as I did before arriving here,” he said.
Wheeler felt the forum went well.
“The goal was to gather information and I have a lot of information to sift through,” she said, adding that parent and staff surveys have already been completed, while a student survey is nearing completion.
Brady said he will likely recommend a four-day school week to Wheeler and the BOE.
“The Bluestem superintendent told me he would never go back to a five-day school week,” Brady said.
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