Payson schools are now scrambling to work out the details of the just-adopted plan to offer a four-day school week starting in August.
The school board recently decided to add 35 minutes to the school day on Monday through Thursday — with no classes on Friday. The district might still offer re-teach and enrichment programs on Fridays, with extra pay for the teachers offering the classes. The district will also likely offer sports, clubs and other activities on Fridays.
Overall, the new schedule will trim the time K-6 students spend in class by about 100 hours a year and the time that students in grades 7-12 spend in class by about 70 hours annually. That’s a 6%-9% decrease in class time — but still far above the state’s minimum requirements.
Despite the loss of class time, the district expects little or no impact on student test scores. That’s based on research at some of the more than 560 districts that have gone to a four-day week — including about 86 districts in Arizona. However, the board decided the new schedule will boost staff and faculty morale, give families more time together, make it easier to recruit new teachers and please parents, students and faculty alike.
The budget savings will probably add up to 1% or 2%, mostly because the district won’t have to run buses on Fridays or air condition classrooms on Fridays, a decreased use of substitute teachers and other operational savings. Staff salaries will not change.
The district will continue to deliver meals on Friday for families that qualify for free-and-reduced meals based on family income.
The decision to shift to a four-day week drew mixed reviews on social media. For instance, the Payson AZ Local Community News and Chat posted a vigorous exchange once the decision was announced.
Keeley led off the exchange with a critical comment. “This means longer dragging days for us kids. Which means more stress than usual and less time during the night to do your work — especially kids with sports. It’s not even like you can use your three-day weekend to relax because you’re gonna be using it to catch up on all the work. I’m tired of not having a say in my own education.”
Liz added, “you all think you’re making such good decisions by not including the ones actually getting the education. That just makes it worse on us because we all have our own learning techniques. You have zero clue what it’s like now.”
“Most parents didn’t get a survey,” said Michele, in response to reports that some 73% of the parents surveyed favored a four-day week — with about a third of the district’s parents responding. “They had already decided what they were going to do before people spoke up. When asked about how it benefits the kids, the only thing they came up with was that ‘happy teachers will provide a better education to the kids.’”
However, Dallin posted, “Round Valley switched to a four-day school week when I was in high school and I loved it. My initial thoughts were similar to yours, but having the whole day of Friday was worth it.”
Peyton also attended a four-day school and found the longer class periods an advantage. “I know it’s still longer days, but on the three days off your family wouldn’t have to worry about getting everything done because with the block schedule it was more efficient for homework and even fewer kids failed.”
Chris said her daughter attended a four-day school and therefore had time to hold down a job and work on the ranch — and still got a full-ride scholarship to the University of Arizona. “Guess it’s about perspective on what you want to do in life.”
Meshanna said she moved to Payson from Snowflake, where her kids were on a four-day schedule. “From a parent’s perspective, I love it. It encouraged my kids to keep up on their homework and it gives those who might need some extra attention some time for that as well.”
In the end, Keeley had second thoughts. “Maybe it is just the way I’m thinking. Maybe y’all are right. I’ll give it a shot.”
The district will be receiving millions in extra funding from the federal COVID stimulus programs — which could also provide Friday enrichment programs. School principals also have money in their budgets to pay teachers to provide extra instruction to students who need help catching up. On the new schedule, students will also spend more time in class than they did last semester — when the district used Fridays as a day to help struggling students catch up.
Despite the reduction in classroom hours, the district will still have kids in class far more than the minimum state requirement specify.
The district already offers all day kindergarten, compared to the half-day state requirement.
The state requires 712 hours of class time in grades 1-3 and 890 hours in grades 4-8. The state minimum class time drops to just 720 hours in high school. Payson’s current schedule requires 1,120 hours in grades K-5 and 1,161 in grades 6-12.
At first glance, it seems like eliminating Fridays would cut class time by 20%, rather than by just 6%-9%. But the extra 35 minutes a day adds two hours a week and shifting a host of half-days in the current schedule for teacher training from Wednesdays to Fridays will add more class hours into the schedule. The new schedule will increase the time teachers spend in professional training from 96 hours a year to about 123 hours annually — with most of the training on Fridays.
Still, it’s a sweet deal for teachers and other staff. The teacher contracts will now require them to work just 158 days a year — compared to the current 184. They’ll work 8.75 hours per day — instead of the current 7.5 hours. Administrators will work 220 days a year, compared to the current 261 days. Their workday will increase from 8 hours to 9.5 hours. They’ll still get 13 paid holidays, compared to the current 14.
A typical worker who gets a two-week vacation would work 250 days per year — 63% more days than a teacher under the new schedule.
Most staff will get to work at 7:15 or 7:30 in the morning and finish work at 4 or 4:15 in the afternoon. For students, the school day will stretch from 7:45 or 8:25 in the morning to 2:50 or 4 in the afternoon — depending on the campus.
Several parents who spoke at the public hearing on the schedule change complained that they’re having a hard time finding after-school child care now — and don’t know how they’ll cope with having their children home all day on Friday.
About a third of the people who opposed the change to a four-day week in the district’s survey cited concerns about child care on Fridays as their biggest objection.
A representative of Payson Community Kids said the group is trying to find enough volunteers to expand from 50 kids per day to 100 kids per day — including an all-day session on Friday. The group’s supply of volunteers shrank during the pandemic and they’re trying to build up the volunteer ranks again.
District administrators spoke to other districts that offer a four-day schedule, including Camp Verde, Globe, Pima, Round Valley Wickenburg and Willcox. Most had nine- or 10-hour school days, did nothing to provide child care on Fridays and had been on the four-day schedule for several years. Some offered re-teaching or enrichment classes on Fridays — but most didn’t.
However, most reported strong — even overwhelming — community support for the four-day schedule.
One administrator commented, “I can’t imagine ever going back to five-day, even though it is frequently discussed. Teachers really like it, families seem to like it too,” according to the district’s presentation of the responses from other districts.