ALEXANDER, N.D. – A western North Dakota school has moved to a four-day week this school year and with great success, the superintendent said.
About 35 minutes have been added to each school day in Alexander, which runs from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
"It was tiring in the beginning," Superintendent Leslie McDonald acknowledged, but she said the district built additional breaks into the schedule for preschoolers and kindergarteners.
Teachers have said they like the additional time built into the schedule because they have more time to answer questions from students and to finish lessons. At the elementary level, the extra time has meant that the district doesn't have to cut short classes in robotics or physical education or art to focus on the mandated reading and mathematics instruction.
"Teachers collectively feel that they have become better teachers," said McDonald.
When the idea was first discussed a couple of years ago, parents were concerned about the expense of paying for day care on Friday for young children who would not be in school.
McDonald said the school building is open on Fridays. Students can attend a program called High Five League, which provides enrichment opportunities, or Friday Intervention Time, for students who need additional help with their school work. The Friday Intervention Program is run by teachers and the enrichment program is run by teacher aides. Teachers are paid by the hour if they choose to work on Fridays.
Kids are bused to the school and eat breakfast and lunch at the school, so parents are not charged additional money for day care.
McDonald said the four-day week covers all of the required 1,050 teacher-student contact hours for the school year.
The district is saving money with the four day a week schedule.
"Now we have three days a week when not all of our lights are on," said McDonald.
Even on Fridays, not all of the rooms in the school are utilized, so there are energy savings.
Not all of the 266 students in preschool through 12th grade have attended the programs on Fridays. On average, up to 20 attend the enrichment program.
McDonald said some student grades have improved with the intervention program. One student's scores in mathematics have improved by nearly two points, going from 1.6 to 3.4 in one quarter.
Teachers appreciate having "normal working hours" and having more time to prepare for the next week's classes.
She has heard a few high school students complain that they get bored when there is no school on Fridays, but she encourages them to come to the school for intervention.
McDonald said a high school innovation class came up with the idea for the four-day school week in the spring of 2017 and presented it to the school board. The board was intrigued and gave administrators approval to further explore how a four-day week would work. Administrators then surveyed parents, held open meetings, and addressed concerns parents had and then presented a plan to the state department of public instruction for approval.
McDonald said she had also looked at a four-day week schedule in the East Fairview school district in Montana's Yellowstone County when she was planning for the four-day week.
McDonald also plans to apply for grant funding to offset some of the costs.