As buzz words go, the expression “thinking outside the box” must be one of the most over-used clichés in modern America. Nevertheless, it can be properly applied to the latest suggestion being circulated among patrons of the Jewell School District.
Superintendent Alice Hunsaker and school board members are considering rescheduling the regular curriculum from five days a week into four.
Leaders concede it would not necessarily save any substantial money. But it would avoid coaches and students repeatedly losing class time Fridays for sports, music and other activities involving travel.
One important component is that it would allow time for more organized and less disruptive professional development. Administrators would be able to bring workshops and other training to Jewell so teaching staff would benefit and grow.
Another element is quality of life for staff. Many make significant sacrifices to teach or work in other positions at Jewell, including a one-way commute of 50 minutes or more. These staff have to use up a valuable day off just to accommodate a weekday dental or medical appointment.
However, a four-day workweek for Jewell’s 150 students prompts many important questions that must be addressed head-on. What do the students who are not traveling for sports or music do on their fifth day? The availability of day care and other options need to be carefully examined, especially for working parents unable to change their schedules to stay home on one weekday.
Also, administrators will need to review the number of students eligible for reduced-price or free meals, then factor in how to keep those youngsters properly nourished on days when there is no regular school.
Of the five school districts in Clatsop County, Jewell has always been a little different. It’s smaller and much more remote, of course, but its K-12 program has a sense of community unlike any other. Anyone who has ever attended a Blue Jays’ athletic contest —in any season — knows students wearing a Jewell uniform fight for points as fiercely as any in their division.
Timber funding during prior years has supported the district, which has offered opportunities for field trips that most students would envy. It has achieved considerable successes in music, journalism and academics.
Jewell leaders are taking the right course on this possible change. They have floated the idea, offered explanations for why they proposed it, and then begun detailed surveys of parents and staff to measure support. They have distributed a suggested schedule to help parents and students better visualize how exactly it could work.
Armed with a better feeling of the level of support, administrators will be better able to make a decision.
America’s public schools are one of the nation’s greatest assets. Jewell leaders want to run theirs efficiently, minimize lost class time and properly develop staff. They are to be commended for looking at creative ways to achieve all three of those goals.