Colorado school switches to a four-day week and teachers and students love it
Despite several attempts to raise taxes to fund higher salaries, the teachers at Colorado's 27J Schools are the lowest paid in the Denver metro area. As a result, the Adams County school district has struggled to attract and retain quality educators. Hoping to make jobs more appealing, administrators came up with a creative solution: switching to a four-day school week.
“We weren't going to compete in the current system," 27J Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Fiedler told NBC News. "You just can’t be dead last in funding, last in starting teacher salaries, last in average teacher pay and expect you’ll attract the best folks."
Like many states, Colorado's minimum instructional requirements for public schools are regulated by hours in the classroom, not days. Therefore, 27J Schools can cut one day from the school week by extending the length of the other four.
Under the new schedule, Mondays were dropped, elementary school days were extended by 40 minutes, and high school days last eight hours. "Unlike Friday, Monday is a day for kids and teachers to prepare for the week," Fiedler said.
Instead of going to school on Monday, kids play, rest, study, work, volunteer, or participate in extracurricular activities.
According to NBC News, Emma Cable, a junior at Eagle Ridge Academy, goes to volleyball practice and volunteers at a seeing-eye dog organization; Isabelle Jaramillo, a third grader at Northeast Elementary, spends hers at the local Boys & Girls Club; and Zach Felker, a junior at Prairie View High, picks up an extra shift at Buffalo Wild Wings to earn money to pay for college.
As for the teachers, they use the long weekends to relax and prepare for the week.
"It was attractive to me because I was essentially working that long of a day in DPS anyway. Here, I could just do it four days week," Ally Hyatt, a seventh-grade science teacher at Vikan Middle, told NBC. "It's been amazing for my personal life, and I love that I have more time to actually plan lessons on Monday and get everything ready for the week."
Administrators at 27J Schools have mandatory professional development two Monday mornings a month, while teachers have one. Students were provided with Chromebook laptops and a digital curriculum in order to feel connected to the classroom on days off. In addition, the district expanded day care offerings for parents of young children. One option offers all-day care on Mondays for $30, and the Shopneck Boys & Girls Club in Brighton offers free care to families that cannot afford it.
Students and teachers love the revised schedule, but some parents aren't happy about it. Jessica Lore, a single mother-of-three who works full-time for a sales company, told NBC: "I don't like it one bit, and I feel like the district didn’t take seriously my worries about child care."
In addition, Brody Matthews said he and his wife are looking forward to a work-related move out of the 27J district. "I’ll be relieved that they’ll be back on a five-day schedule," Matthews said. "It’s what pretty much every human on Earth works or goes to school for."
27J comprises 28 schools and about 18,000 students, making it the largest school district to implement the four day week. At the end of the first year, Fiedler reports positive results. He says jobs that attracted a paltry number of applicants now lure more than 100. What's more, the quality of applicants has improved, with more candidates possessing masters degrees and certifications to teach English as a second language. In addition, the turnover rate dropped from 21% to 13%.
It's too early to declare the experiment a resounding success, since state test results and official graduation rates won't be in until fall.
In the past, some rural school districts have implemented a four-day week, yielding contradictory results. A 2015 study showed improved academic performance, but a 2017 study found declined academic performance and a 2018 study found juvenile crime jumped 20 percent. (Brighton police told NBC that noticed no such uptick since 27J introduced the new schedule.
Fielder recommends the four-day school week for other resource-strapped school districts struggling to attract quality educators. However, he emphasizes that paying educators a fair wage is paramount. "If you have the money, you should pay your teachers," Fiedler said. "But for us, it's a significant differentiating factor that makes us really competitive."