JEWELL — Jewell School District is exploring the possibility of a four-day school week.
Superintendent Alice Hunsaker introduced the idea at Monday night’s school board meeting on behalf of numerous families and staff who inquired about the option.
Some in the district are advocating for a shorter week as a way to help reduce both student and teacher absences, Hunsaker said.
“After doing the research, I thought it was worth bringing up for your consideration,” she said to the board.
It’s a move many rural school districts have made. The benefits of a shortened week mostly revolve around travel. Due to Jewell’s relatively remote location, student athletes and musicians often have to miss more class than their centrally-located counterparts when traveling long distances to games and competitions. Staff members struggle to attend professional development courses without racking up sub days. Parents also have mentioned that having a day off to make the hourlong drive into town for things like doctor and dentist appointments could alleviate stress, Hunsaker said.
“We struggle for staff to get the professional development they need,” she said. “If staff were all available on a Friday, then we could bring the training here rather than taking the time and expense to send a handful of people out. The bottom line is we can’t educate well if our kids aren’t here and our teachers aren’t here.”
In general, shortening the week would unlikely be a cost-saving mechanism.
“Any savings would be minimal. That would not be a reason for me to make that kind of change, personally,” she said.
Some board members were skeptical, however, and requested more data about the number of absences correlated with student travel and personal development. There were also concerns about how a day off in the week could be a burden to working parents with small children.
“The other part of the conversation here is about child care. What about families with younger kids? They may have to find someone to watch their child another day of the week,” board member Ginger Kaczenski said.
Hunsaker said while that has been a sticking point in the past when the idea was proposed, demographics in Jewell have changed. With less than 150 students enrolled in the kindergarten-through-12th-grade school, more than 90 percent of families have a parent or relative who is home full time, or parents who do not work hours that conflict with regular school hours.
But board member Brian Meier saw a shortened school week leading to overall less time in the classroom.
“All I see is your in-class time being less than what we have now, and teachers are already saying they don’t have enough time,” Meier said. “We love providing field trips to show kids experiences outside of Jewel. If you’re going to shorten educational time, how are you going to fit in things like field trips? What happens to the benefits kids get?”
Hunsaker said there are “creative ways to recapture time” throughout the school day. Days could be longer, and late-start Wednesdays could be restored to a regular school day.
The school district plans to send out a community survey this month to gauge the community’s reception to a modified schedule. It will include a basic list of pros and cons, as well as a few mock-up schedules of what a school day would look like. Results of the survey will help determine whether the board continues to pursue the schedule change for next school year.
“I believe this is a community decision,” Hunsaker said.