Independence School District is the largest Missouri district to switch to a 4-day week
The Independence School District will start a four-day school week beginning next school year.
The schedule change passed on a 6 to 1 vote, despite one board member's push to allow more time to hear from teachers, families and students.
The school board launched an exploration into the four-day school week in October with the hopes that it would help recruit and retain staff amid an ongoing shortage of teachers and other workers.
“What we are talking about is a systematic change, and this has been brought on by a systematic problem,” said Superintendent Dale Herl, “and this problem is not unique to the Independence School District."
With nearly 14,000 students, Independence would be the largest district in Missouri to make the switch. The next-largest is the Warren County School District west of St. Louis, with more than 3,000 students.
The move followed a trend of other Missouri schools — most of them small and rural — adopting a shorter schedule. At the start of the school year, 25% of the state’s school districts had a four-day week.
Board member Anthony Mondaine made the only dissenting vote against the schedule change. Earlier in the meeting, he asked for time to resurvey families, teachers and students on the plan.
“My sincere concern is that there is a considerable amount of people that don't feel heard,” Mondaine said. “And regardless of what we decide, I feel strongly that it would be imperative that we let them speak that piece.”
The district administered a survey earlier in the fall, but has since released more information on what the four-day school week would look like.
The board voted against conducting another survey, with members stating that they did not believe it would lead to additional engagement or that it would cause further divide among those who disagreed about the switch to a 4-day-week.
Shelley Lauber, a teacher at Truman High School, told the board that she supports the four-day week because the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many teachers, including herself, to burn out. That made her realize how important time is.
“Money is nice. Money does not bring happiness, time and feeling like you can just regain your energy, regain your lust for your job,” Lauber said. “I can tell you after a three-day weekend, I have a totally different viewpoint going back to school than I do after a regular two-day weekend. I feel ready to see my kids again.”
What will a four-day school week look like?
The school district will shift to a Tuesday through Friday schedule beginning in fall 2023. The school day will also be extended by 40 minutes, so the district’s total instruction time remains the same despite the fewer school days.
The district plans to offer enrichment opportunities, remedial education and childcare for students on Monday, referred to as the “fifth day.” That includes different offerings such as tutoring, clubs, sports and field trips.
However, the district would only provide transportation to the “learning league” for students who are behind academically. There would also be a cost for child care on Mondays at $30 a day for families who use it regularly and $45 for a single use.
Brandi Pruente, a mother of three children in the district, voiced her concerns about how much childcare would cost her if she needed to use it on Mondays.
“I think they have no idea how many students will be engaging in those fifth day activities and how many students will not, and will not have transportation and will be sitting at home without resources,” Pruente said.
Child care was a concern for nearly a third of parents surveyed by the district about the four-day week. Only 21% of district families responded to the survey. Families were most concerned about the longer school day and the impact on learning.
The schedule change also comes as some families of students in the Independence School District have been frustrated by what they say is a lack of transparency from their school board. Board meetings are not streamed or recorded and speakers are required to choose an agenda topic to address during public comment.
District spokesperson Megan Murphy said every case will be different for childcare costs. Since the school day is extended, some families may not need after school or before school care, so costs will vary for families.
Board members assured those in the audience that adjustments can be made to the plan ahead of its starting date.
“Is everything ready and can we answer every question that comes across our desk right now? No,” said board member Jill Esry. “But I have trust in our leadership to listen to us, to listen to the community, to the people in the trenches.”
Now that the district has approved the four-day school week, its next step will be making more than 30 calendars for its different groups of employees.
Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.