Silver Schools District hosted an opportunity for the public to speak its opinions on the proposed four-day week issue Tuesday evening at the high school’s Little Theater. With plenty of comfortable seats available, about 70 or 80 people were there to listen to the opening presentation and possibly speak later.
The committee consisted of Laura Brown, Stout; Leslie Ormand, Harrison Schmitt; Dixine Moore; Opportunity High School, and Jason Ping, also of OHS. Ping read the presentation from points made visually on a screen, as distances prevented many from reading them personally. The report was based on the research Dr. Jill Hare, high school, had done on area states that had gone from five- to four-day weeks. She used Colorado as the model for the information to be presented.
Ping noted that many districts in the area had a four-day schedule. This was an attractive feature that could tempt teachers from Silver to leave the district and sign on elsewhere if they didn’t get it. Both students and teachers seem to prefer having that fifth day off, according to all reports.
Other questions that had to be addressed were whether grades, attendance figures and finances improved as a result. Utility expenses might improve a little, and substitute teacher expenses did go down, but academic grades were harder to prove. What was certain was that morale improved for both teachers and students, disciplinary issues were reduced, the slightly longer blocks of classroom time seemed to have fewer distractions than with a five-day plan.
Coaches, especially, saw less interference in their academic assignments and less time was taken off for appointments and travel requirements. Time was better used in many areas because that fifth day could be used without interfering with the study periods.
A major concern was that students struggling and behind in their work might not use those Fridays to catch up. If they didn’t, things could get worse for them. They couldn’t hope to use only class time to get grades back in shape. Time management was very important. Another major issue was that parents who depended on five-day attendance for child care missed having schools do their babysitting. Paying for that in the community on Fridays could be expensive in a hurry, they thought.
Other factors presented from Dr. Hare’s Colorado research was that a third of its districts, 88 of them, were now on the four-day schedule. There appeared to be many positives with it, if that fifth day was used to good advantage, taking care of necessities. Kids could catch up, keep up their school work, do athletic events without losing school time, work a day in the community, watch over younger siblings in the family—many positive things could be done with that day.
Good fifth day activities led to better family weekends, improved family relationships, lowered discipline issues, less fatigue and higher morale for school days, both for students and teachers. Teachers noticed better classroom focus on the subjects, better planning time for school work, less wasted time in the classroom.
While the benefits aren’t automatic, they are there with planning and effort. Administratively, a major benefit is the morale factor, and not losing teachers and kids to the “next district” that has that four-day benefit. As Ping said, almost any student would go for the four-day plan over a five-day one. It is a big draw for teachers and students alike.
Then, Ping opened the time for public input. He suggested three-minute limits for any questions or input, and Brown, Ormand and Moore, at the table, were busy keeping the comments written for further study and board/administrative use later.
Teachers and parents were equally concerned about effects of the four-day change on the lowest income families. Some noted that they weren’t at this meeting and their opinions were missing. One idea was that it would be best to start the program with middle and high school students first, as they probably needed the four-day plan more than elementary students did.
Karen Valentine, elementary teacher, asked about the starting times for kindergarten children. Ping pulled that question and said the committee was not prepared to answer questions, rather, to gather them for others to study and respond to at a later time. Tonight’s work was to get the questions and comments for further study.
Most of the parental negatives were over childcare expenses they felt they couldn’t meet when both parents worked. Some were concerned that unsupervised older kids would get into trouble.
Several teachers mentioned the desire to be a part of the four-day scheduling, saying they felt they could do better planning and teaching with it, improving the quality of their efforts. They believed it might help New Mexico escape the stigma of being 49th or 50th in the nation’s schools.
Throughout the short breaks between speakers, Ping reminded those attending that no decisions were being made at this meeting, and that good records were being kept for study. They would prepare the best plan possible with these ideas, and present it later. At another time, he noted that reconfiguring the schools was not a part of the four-day issue. These were separate considerations.
After about 16 or more people had presented their opinions and had left questions behind, Ping declared the meeting over, about 7:30. The crowd of roughly 75 in attendance filed out, still in thought. This interactive mood lingered in the room, in small groups outside, and in the parking lots. People were thinking this over and listening to each other.
This same committee, with the same format, was to meet again Wednesday evening at Harrison Schmitt’s Discovery Room (multi-purpose gym, etc.) It will meet at 6:00 to gather more opinions and information for decision-making. Administrators and board members want to consider all angles for the community.
After the meeting, Dr. Hare said she chose the Colorado information as it was the only state in our area that had chosen to use a five-year period of information gathering to support its findings. This added time period gave more credence to the statements and statistics it presented, and she considered that difference to be important for a district such as Silver to base its information upon.
Further, it was difficult to find any research that matched the demographics of Silver City-Grant County; we were one-of-a-kind and not easy to replicate. The area's living conditions were totally unlike those of communities in states to the east. The citizens are unlike those of many other states, and they don’t see their conditions in the same light. The differences are great.
Silver District is putting good effort in this information search. Students’ and citizens’ needs are being carefully considered.