- Associated Press - Friday, April 14, 2017

OREARVILLE, Mo. (AP) - Nestled between two pastures, Orearville Elementary School lies alongside a winding stretch of County Road P, just outside Slater. The school is vacant on Mondays. Six years ago, the building was nearly empty every day of the week.

The school would have been easy to pass by, just another roadside relic. But when the school board made the decision to switch to four-day weeks, it saved itself from becoming another artifact.

The Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/2oYh51V ) reports that more and more schools in Missouri, mostly rural, are switching to four-day school weeks. With tight budgets and high transportation costs, the schools make the choice out of desperation.

Since 2011, schools have been able to make the switch to shorter weeks thanks to a change of state statute that lifted the 174 school-day requirement and lowered it to 142 days but with the same 1,044 hour requirement. If a district fails to meet at least two performance requirements, then it has to move back to a five-day week and the 174 day requirement.

Seventeen school districts switched to four-day school weeks; two subsequently stopped.

It was this statute change that saved the Orearville school. Faced with bankruptcy and closure, Orearville made the decision to switch six years ago; for them, it was do-or-die. Orearville had already been borrowing money to make it through the school year and had depleted its reserves. It held a town meeting to inform people of the switch, and it’s been going strong ever since.

Similarly, tight budgets and high transportation costs spurred East Newton School District to switch to a four-day week.

Students in East Newton, located in southwestern Missouri, travel anywhere from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours a day to get to school. The predominantly rural school district has to bus students “well over 1,000 miles a day,” Superintendent Todd McCrackin said.

McCrackin said his district is heavily dependent on state revenue, so with high transportation costs and precarious transportation funding, the district was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The General Assembly is currently deciding the state budget, which would affect how much money schools get for transportation. In Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed budget, school transportation was cut by $36 million, which school officials said they would have to make up by taking money out of classrooms. The House’s proposed budget put the money back to fund transportation; the budget moves to the Senate for consideration this week.

Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the department hasn’t really seen any big savings from school districts that switch to four-day weeks. She said the districts that switch only see around a 1 percent savings on average.

But many districts that switch to four-day school weeks are happy with their decision, and wouldn’t go back to a five-day week even if funding was restored.

“You think, wow, going four days a week, it doesn’t seem like it would work. But it’s helped us financially, and our performance of our students on their (standardized) MAP test hasn’t suffered at all,” Gene Neff, administrative assistant for Orearville, said.

Neff said that the first year Orearville switched to a four-day week, the district only planned to save around $25,000 from its total budget, which at the time was about $700,000 a year. But, to administrators’ surprise and delight, the district was able to save around $30,000 and has continued each year. It was able to use this money to invest into its school and stop borrowing money to get through the school year.

The school has 81 students, pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and buses its high schoolers to Slater High School. This is its highest enrollment in history, and it has had its largest pre-kindergarten/kindergarten class ever - 20 students.

The students, passing through the newly renovated building with yellow walls and black paw prints scattered across the walls, run excitedly, giggling, to recess. They’re coming from classrooms filled with Smart Boards and new technology. And they’re coming from their special classes, music and art, which can be the first to go when budgets get tight.

The newly-painted walls and the updated technology are a result of money saved from switching to a four-day week. The science classes are even able to get new, much-needed lab equipment.

“If you go in and look at my science tools and equipment, it was in bad shape, and they’ve approved to buy me some for next year,” said Becky Pestka, fifth-eighth grade science teacher and school nurse. “They’re able to get us what we need.”

Along with the new equipment, teachers have noticed new attitudes with their students. More teachers and staff see students looking happier and more motivated with the four-day weeks.

Pam Romine, part-time cook and custodian, saw a noticeable difference when kids had to attend school five days a week.

“A couple weeks ago we made up a snow day and went five days,” Romine said. “And the kids, not having Monday to rest after the weekend - ‘cause you know, people run all weekend long - not having that Monday, they came in here and were almost zombies.”

John Pijanowski, education professor and co-director of the Wally Cordes Center for Teaching and Faculty Services at the University of Arkansas, said current research shows that there aren’t any negative effects on student performance from four-day weeks, and there are school savings.

Pijanowski also said that when schools switch to four-day weeks it’s important not to ignore teachers and make sure they’re getting the professional development they need to make the best use of those changes. He said it’s also important to be mindful of how schools manage instruction time for students and increase the school day with four-day weeks.

Neff said to make up for the lost day, school runs an hour longer each day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and students have shorter breaks for Thanksgiving and Spring Break. Several students said they didn’t mind the shortened breaks because they get longer weekends, so they aren’t as burnt out and in of need of them.

Some students also depend on the four-day school weeks to do their jobs.

Christian Rhodes, an eighth-grader, detangling microphone wires for the school play practice during music class, recalled when Orearville switched to a four-day week.

“I remember me having my alarm clock set on Monday and me waking up - ‘I got to get to school’ - and then 7 o’clock came around and just no bus. And I just felt like an idiot,” he said, laughing and smiling as he swept his blonde hair across his forehead.

That alarm clock continues to wake Christian up at 5:30 a.m. each day. His mom’s job got transferred to Higginsville, and she has to wake up and leave at 4:30 a.m. to make it to work. This leaves Christian responsible for waking up his two younger sisters and getting them ready for school.

On the weekends, Christian maintains his early wake-up schedule, getting up before the sunrise to go work on a farm. Whether it be chopping wood, tending to the fields or driving a tractor, he enjoys the work and has been doing it since he was a kid with his dad.

“When harvest comes around, we’re constantly in the field. I mean, we got 10,000 acres that we farm and rent and stuff. We have to keep our equipment going 24-7,” Christian said.

Without the four-day week, he would be too tired and sleep-deprived to get all his homework done, work on the farm and take care of his sisters. He’s dreading moving up to the high school next year, where school runs five days a week.

After he finishes school, Christian wants to keep farming as a hobby but plans to join the Navy as a career.

“I want to go see the world,” he said, laughing as he added, “and get paid to do it.”


Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide