A small school district is about to make a big change.
Kirby’s elementary and high schools will be the first public schools in Arkansas to adopt a four-day week for the 2019-20 school year.
Superintendent Pike Palmer said Wednesday, March 27 that he anticipates lots of benefits from shortening the week: “A little bit of cost savings, more enrollment, higher quality of teachers.”
Palmer said he and Kirby school board members first considered the idea in September after seeing a news story about a school district in Colorado that went to a four-day week.
They started researching similar districts and found that morale and attendance had improved for both teachers and students, and students’ grades increased.
“I feel like, with the four-day week, myself and other employees, as well as the students will be more efficient during those four days, knowing that we’re only here for four days so we need to get the job done,” said Brandi Tolleson, Kirby’s K-12 counselor. “And then, that would allow Friday for activities, family time, doctor’s appointments, whatever we have going on. So, then they would truly have a weekend on Saturday and Sunday to rest and relax and be ready for the next week.”
“When you’re really working six days a week,” April Porter, special education teacher for grades 7-12, said, “as I am right now—it’s tiring.”
Palmer said he held meetings with parents in the fall and then sent a survey to parents and high school students. He stated that 85 percent of parents and 80 percent of students were in favor of the change.
Laura Mack, a high school math teacher, said Kirby and Pike County is mostly rural and low-income. “And a lot of our students work every day after school,” she added. “They’re excited about the extra day during the week to, you know, they can work all day.”
Palmer said families had a couple of common concerns about the switch. One is that many parents rely on the school to provide food for their children.
“Well, our solution to that was, we just started implementing a backpack program this year,” Palmer explained. “We’re sending out around 50 backpacks. Businesses donated money, they donated food. We’ve got a lot of support.
“And we got a lot of feedback saying, we will even support you more if this goes to (four days a week).”
The other frequently-voiced concern was that working parents would have to provide childcare one day each week.
“It has opened up babysitting possibilities for high schoolers,” Tolleson said, “so some parents are going to go that route.”
Palmer said his research showed that concerns about child care usually go away after the change takes place. “What are parents doing during spring break?” he asked rhetorically. “What are parents doing during Christmas? What are they doing if you have to take off in an emergency? They find a solution.”
He added that the district will also start a Trojan Enrichment Program. Two Fridays per month, the school will open, and teachers will offer remediation, tutoring, and activities.
“If parents need that help, we’re gonna run the hours from, like, 8-Noon. We’re gonna run a bus route. We’re going to feed the kids breakfast and lunch. So, we’re going to try to help offset some of the concerns about that additional child care.”
If Palmer wants a closer look at the obstacles and benefits of a four-day school week, he could drive to Saline County and visit Victory Baptist Academy. The small, private school has used a four-day week since 1994. Chad Overturf, the school’s administrator, said private schools are more likely to adopt four-day weeks because families that can afford tuition often have at least one parent at home during the day.
“If the parents don’t have to worry about trying to find that daycare or that child care, it’s just easier to get them,” he stated.
Overturf said he grew up in a four-day-a-week school in Missouri. He said he was more eager to return to school after three days away. He said he and his fellow teachers still like the Tuesday-Friday schedule. “Most of our staff that’s employed here are members of our church,” he explained. “So, not only do they work here, but they also work in the church. And so, we take Monday off, and so, it allows for a relaxing day, a longer weekend for them, relaxing day after a full day of work at church.”
Victory Baptist has approximately 25 students, and Overturf said its small enrollment makes a four-day schedule easier to employ. He said it is a draw for some families, but not all.
“A lot of times, we’ll go through the interview, and close to the front we’ll remind them that we’re a four-day-a-week school. And often they’ll say, yeah, I’ve heard that, or I’ve read that. But, the other half: some are surprised, and some are disappointed.”
Palmer said he anticipates that Kirby will save money on utilities and transportation. He hopes to save $50,000 next year, which would account for roughly three percent of the district’s budget. Those savings might help him offset the increase in the minimum wage approved by voters in November and the increase in the minimum teacher salary signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson this spring, but he said the district has been and remains on solid financial footing.
“We do appreciate our administration,” Lisa Miller, Kirby High School’s secretary, said. “We really do. We appreciate our administration for the work and the effort that they’ve put into this and trying to drive our school forward and trying to help us succeed.”
Kirby will be the first public school district in Arkansas to adopt a four-day schedule, but Porter does not expect it to be the last.
"People are afraid of change,” she stated, “and this is just trying something new, and I feel sure we'll be successful."