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2/20/2013
Worth a shot

Southeast Island School District might get the four-day school week it's seeking.

Another community or two might as well.

Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell has co-sponsored House Bill 21, which would create a pilot project involving the shorter school week. At present the bill allows one school district to participate, but Wilson says that number might be increased before final approval by the state's elected leaders.

HB21, if passed, gives a school district 30 days to establish a project. Considering all the necessary details, including teacher contracts, that might be difficult for any district except Southeast Island, which began entertaining the idea a year ago.

Southeast Island would have be chosen for the project, which would be a three-year experiment.

The law would require that students receive the equivalent of a five-day-a-week education. Students as well as teachers and the community would need to be in support of the project; public comment would need to weigh heavily in favor of a four-day school week.

The state Department of Education and Early Development would expect quarterly reports from the pilot district. The reports would explain the effects of a four-day week on students' and teachers' performance.

The district also would be required to report to the Legislature, comparing the performance of the pilot school before and after the four-day week.

Twenty-two states offer four-day weeks in rural districts. Wilson says the response has included increased morale among students and teachers, and less absenteeism.

The pilot project was devised as one possible way to improve poor student performance in rural schools, Wilson says.

Southeast Island's School Board and parents brought the idea forward — the idea being to extend the length of each of the four days students attend classes, and then allow the fifth day for family, i.e. dentist appointments or the needed three days to run a trapline. This way students involved in sports and extracurricular activities also wouldn't miss as much school when traveling to other communities to compete.

Wilson says one difficulty is in dealing with teacher contracts, which would need to be revised to accommodate a four-day week for students. The fifth day might be used periodically for in-service events. That alone wouldn't solve current contract language, in particular as it pertains to time spent teaching.

The devil will be in the details, but HBp21 would support the experimental project.

If the project produces a better education for students, then it likely will be more widely adopted. If it doesn't, then it's back to the drawing board.

But part of education is experimenting — studying, figuring out what works and what doesn't and then improving upon it.

It's worth a shot.