District wants to stay on 4-day school week

Rural Rich says the schedule actually results in increased classroom time for students
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One of Utah's smallest school districts wants to move to a four-day week permanently, saying the schedule has helped increase instructional time for many students.

Tiny Rich School District in northern Utah asked state education leaders Friday to consider allowing it to continue holding school four days a week in the future. The schedule saves the district about $1,500 a week in transportation costs, said Ralph Johnson, Rich school board president.

Beginning Monday, many state government offices will also be open only four days a week in a move meant to lower energy costs for the state and employees.

But saving energy is not the main reason the district wants to continue the four-day schedule, which started two years ago and is due to continue next year under an agreement approved by the Utah State Board of Education. Rich, which last school year had 436 students attending four schools, conceived the arrangement to deal with sports and activities.

Because the district is rural, traveling to athletic events and activities at other schools during the week often took time from the school day. Students missed class, and coaches who were also teachers often had to find substitutes.

Now, with the four-day week, the district only participates in sports games on Thursday evenings, Fridays and Saturdays, Johnson said.

“We're just not missing school for activities, and our instructional time has gone up,” said Rich Superintendent Dale Lamborn.

Lamborn presented a report to state board members showing that students attend school nearly 12 hours more a year on the four-day schedule. Also, last school year, the district had 32 percent fewer absences in the second trimester compared to the same time period in the 2005-2006 school year, when the district was still on a five-day week.

State Associate Superintendent Larry Shumway said the State Board of Education will likely decide if the district can continue its four-day week in 2009-10 at its September board meeting.

Rich is now the only district in Utah operating on a four-day week, Shumway said. But he said the Garfield School District is also asking the board to allow one of its rural schools to go to a four-day week, which the board will also likely consider in September. The Uintah School District also recently considered moving to a four-day week, but ultimately decided not to pursue the idea.

Lamborn said the schedule change hasn't been perfect. Some classified employees, such as food service workers and bus drivers, had to accept fewer hours. Also, though coaches are no longer missing class time, they now often work through Saturday to bring students to matches and games.

Johnson said the schedule isn't for everyone, but it works well in his area.

“For rural school districts that face some of the challenges we face, I don't think there's any question this is something that should be considered,” Johnson said.