A four-day school week sounds like every kid’s dream, but it ends up being pretty good for everyone.
At least that’s the hope in Alexander, where the school district recently got permission from the state to start a four-day week this fall.
Leslie Bieber, superintendent of Alexander Public School District No. 2, said the idea came from the students. It wasn’t from kids who were looking for a way to do less work, though.
The high school offers something called the innovation class, where students decide on the topic they’ll study. Last year, they looked at school schedules and they presented a proposal on moving to a four-day school week to Bieber.
“I told them this was pretty interesting,” she said.
The district’s school board agreed, and asked Bieber to explore the idea further.
The plan is to start school half an hour earlier on Monday through Thursday. On Friday there will be time for one-on-one tutoring, for small group work to help students who might be behind and something the district is calling the “High Five League.”
The league is a chance for any student in the district to take part in enrichment opportunities and activities.
“That’s really what caught our eye,” Bieber said of the chance to offer more opportunities to students.
Having something for students to take part in on Fridays also means that students who rely on school meals will still have access to that and parents don’t need to worry about finding child care for that day.
“We did not want to cause any hardship,” Bieber said.
Buses are still going to run on Fridays, as well. The district is able to use some federal money to help pay for new programs and the new schedule will probably add about $8,000 in expenses to the district’s budget.
“Cost effectiveness was not why we did this,” Bieber said.
One of the biggest draws was the fact it will give teachers more time to focus on a subject. At the elementary level, there will be 90-minute blocks for reading and math. The total time spent on those subjects won’t really change, but by blocking out longer stretches of time, students can learn more in a day. That’s key for their future success.
“If you can read and do math, everything else falls into place,” Bieber said.
And at all levels it will help cut back on interruptions.
“There’s so many times when the bell rings and you say, ‘OK, we’ll pick up here next time,’” Bieber said.
But getting everyone caught back up to where they were takes time.
There are other districts in North Dakota that have a four-day week. Horse Creek Public School District No. 32, which is also in McKenzie County, does, for example. That district has nine students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Yellowstone Public School District No. 14, which is East Fairview and has 77 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, does as well.
For comparison, Alexander has 226 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The schedule is more common in Montana.
“We had other schools to look at,” Bieber said.
Another draw was the chance for more professional development. Right now, the district dismisses at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and teachers have 45 minutes for professional development.
Starting next year, teachers will have all day Friday for that.
In the end, students will have the same amount of class time next year as they have had this year — 1,038 hours of instruction.
“It may not look like 175 days,” Bieber said.
The district will have to re-apply next year if it wants to continue the four-day week. After that, it will be able to have its schedule reviewed by the state every five years.
Bieber is excited that the school is implementing an idea that’s not only innovative and different but also came from the students.
“(Gov. Doug) Burgum challenged us all to come up with innovative ways to teach our kids,” she said.