Payson schools will shift to a four-day instructional week when classes resume in August, despite wrenching pleas from some parents who say they don’t know how they will provide child care on Fridays.
The board unanimously voted to shift to the Monday through Thursday schedule, with an extra 35 minutes added to the school day.
Superintendent Linda Gibson presented the board with the options and principals talked enthusiastically about the impact on staff morale and concentrated quality instruction due to the flexibility offered by longer class periods.
However, Gibson also noted that the change probably won’t have much impact on student achievement — based on the research. Moreover, the four-day week offers only minimal savings — since the district won’t cut salaries, which account for the bulk of the school budget. Teachers and staff will work the same number of hours per year — even with school mostly closed on Fridays.
She noted that the district has gone to what amounts to a four-day class schedule for much of this year — with Friday reserved for working with students struggling to keep up due to the shifts in and out of distance learning caused by the pandemic.
“We’ve pretty much been on a (four-day) instructional week this year,” she noted.
Board member Barbara Underwood said that the district has discussed a four-day schedule off and on for 15 years.
“It has always seemed like, ‘this is not the time.’ But so many districts have now gone to a four-day week. If we’re going to do this — this is the year to try it. This does not mean we’re doing this forever. We’ll reassess each year.”
A survey of faculty and staff found almost 80% favor the four-day work week. A survey of parents found three-quarters support the change — although less than a third of parents responded to the survey.
However, several parents at the public hearing lamented the impending change, which will leave them scrambling to find child care on Fridays.
“Our concern is that there’s no one to watch the kids,” said one parent. “Our youngest one’s in day care — which is closing down completely. We can’t get into any other day care — there’s a seven-page waiting list. Low-income families are being left behind. It seems like you’re cramming the work they do now in five days into four days.”
Another parent observed, “I don’t know how we’re even looking at going to a four-day week with the (test) scores we’re looking at. Everything I’ve heard today concerns the benefit to the teachers. You say you want to do what’s in the best interest of the kids — but four days a week will harm some kids. Even if it’s one kid, that’s too much.”
One vocational teacher said the four-day schedule will make it easier for Payson to recruit teachers, now that other districts are shifting to four-day schedules.
“I tried to recruit a teacher and he won’t come to Payson, because we’re not on a four-day schedule,” he said.
The debate shifted back and forth during the public hearing portion of the meeting, with child care and dwindling class time the chief concerns.
A former teacher said her conversations with other parents in four-day districts convinced her it will work out. “This is all about the kids. Everyone I’ve talked to on a four-day schedule — in the end all I heard was positive — giving kids more time to understand the core they need to hear.
“Sometimes in these short class periods, you don’t have enough core time to teach. The world is going more and more to these adjusted hours. The argument that people are working five days a week is just not there anymore.”
But another parent observed that the loss of a day in school will hit hardest the kids who are already struggling. “I don’t believe that keeping them an extra 35 minutes will accomplish a lot of learning — it will have an adverse effect on sports activities. What about the kids who struggle already? Where will they get the extra help they need? What about the parents who are unable to stay home on Fridays? They face a choice between working to support the family — or staying home with the possibility of no longer being employed.”
Underwood said, “I talked to several districts that do the four-day week. I was surprised. Child care was not an issue. Now you’ve got all these high schoolers that could be available (for baby sitting) on Fridays. The thing that’s really exciting to me is professional development” for teachers on some Fridays, instead of during half days on some Wednesdays. “In all the years I’ve been on the board, I don’t think we’ve given the time and energy we should into professional development.”
Board president Joanne Conlin said, the schedule would “re-energize teachers. I totally see the merits to everything. We’re also talking about the students — and one of the best things for many of them is to be in school because they’re safe. Their home environment might not be good. Their parents may be working and not able to attend to them (on Fridays), and the children may get in trouble.”
Gibson said that some studies have suggested a decrease in discipline problems on a four-day week. Studies also show test scores may change initially, but the effect seems to fade away after a couple of years.
“It pretty much comes back to a neutral impact across the board,” said Gibson. “Our job is to make sure they’re safe while they’re in school. We have to do the best we can while we have them — and know that what happens when they leave us is out of our control, although it remains a concern in our minds and hearts.”
Conlin also worried about a potential impact on test scores — given the declines in scores during the pandemic. “Here we are. We have a couple of schools on (state) remediation (for low scores among special education students and English Language Learners). And now we’re cramming it into four days — how are we going to succeed?”
But Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Katrina Sacco said the current low scores reflect the dislocations caused by the pandemic, not a fundamental problem with student learning in the district.
“We started the year knowing we had holes and knowing the holes were going to get bigger,” she said. “You have to remember that in the past year we went from 25% of students having some trauma to 100% of students having some trauma (due to the lack of in-person classes due to the pandemic).”
School principals hastened to reassure the board that the longer school days Monday through Thursday would make it possible to use time more efficiently and still provide remediation. The district will also benefit from additional specialists in math and reading who can work with individual students — thanks in part to federal grants intended to offset the impact of the pandemic.
Julia Randall Elementary School Principal Kim Yates said the new schedule will provide time for 20 minutes of “remediation” for struggling students in every school day. She noted that a 15-minute recess blows about 45 minutes of class time just getting to the playground — then resettled in class.
Rim Country Middle School Principal Jennifer Murphy said the longer class periods will provide a better match with the high school, enable teachers to get deeper into the core academic standards and provide more flexibility in the schedules.
Payson High School Principal Jeff Simon said the new schedule will make it possible to restore remediation and re-teach periods to help kids keep up.
“We will not be cramming things into four days — we’ll have 60-minute class periods. We’ll have success with that. Friday is one of the most difficult attendance days — not only for students, but for staff. I believe we’ll see people moving things like doctors appointments on to Fridays,” which will reduce absences during the rest of the week. Currently, the attendance rate on Friday is about 92%.
He also tried to address parent fears that the loss of a day of classes every week will just cause homework assignments to balloon. “We want to make sure that homework’s a complement to class — not something that has to be done on a Friday or a Saturday. Friday will not be a homework day — it is a day off.”
In the end, Conlin said, “I believe that I’m speaking for the board when we say that the benefits of moving to a four-day week outweigh the challenges. We promise that we will be looking at this on a regular basis to make sure that if there are concerns they will be addressed quickly.”