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Pike Schools Exploring Four-Day Week

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - J.C. Chaney may be the only Pike County School Board member who thinks the board should investigate a four-day school week, but officials in school districts that have already made the switch have nothing but praise for the changes to their systems.

In a recent school board meeting, Chaney said the school should look into the benefits and drawbacks of the four-day week as a way to compensate for state education cuts.

"I'm not saying it's the right thing, but we're looking at getting by," he said, and added that investigating the alternative was the fiscally responsible thing to do.

None of the other board members voiced agreement with Chaney and Superintendent Roger Wagner said he opposed the measure.

"We may save money today, but we're dealing with these kids' future and we'll have to deal with the results later," Wagner said.

Two Kentucky school districts that have gone to a four-day week, Jenkins Independent and Webster County, say that switch has brought about nothing but improvements to their systems.

"Not only (have) we saved money, but by reallocating students' instructional time, we have been able to utilize a lot of educational enterprises we couldn't do with a five-day week," said Webster Superintendent James Kemp.

Jenkins Independent Superintendent John Shook said it has been a "tremendous success" in his schools. He said his district decided to go to a four-day week three years ago, mainly for budget reasons, and they used Webster County as a model for their schedule.

Switching to four days instead of five requires less time added onto each day than one might think. In Jenkins, students attend school from 8 a.m. to 3:25 p.m., and in Webster, students attend from 7:50 a.m. to 3:25, school officials said.

Both Shook and Kemp said they have seen an increase in student and teacher attendance since implementing the schedule change.

And, because student attendance is attached to state funding, the school districts said they have seen an increase in funds through increasing the percentage of student attendance. Webster County has increased its student attendance by one percentage point, which translates to $80,000 in additional funding, said Riley Ramsey, Webster County director of pupil personnel.

Kemp said the district has averaged a five to eight percent savings in its overall school budget in the five years it has had the four day week. He said they put their savings into instructional programs for students. One such program is called the Trojan Academy, and is designed to improve students' proficiency.

Students at Webster County take periodic tests, which the school
uses to determine which students are falling behind their peers,
and where.

Those students who need extra help are taught one-on-one, or in small groups, by retired Webster County school teachers. Kemp said the students love Trojan Academy.

"It's a way to address the personal attention that every student craves. A student may dislike English class, but he likes going to his teacher at Trojan Academy, and when he comes back to English class, he performing at the level of his peers," Riley said.

Additional savings, Kemp said, comes from a decrease in transportation costs and lowered insurance premiums which result from less driving.

Just because the four-day system may work well in Jenkins and Webster, officials at the schools warn that the success may or may not translate to a large school system like Pike County.

"It's easier to do in a small district than in a large district," Shook said, because a larger district has many classified employees.

Jenkins, because there are only three schools in the system, is able to keep its classified workers employed all five days a week. This is important, Shook said, because the employees still collect the same benefits as they did before the system switched schedules.

According to Kemp, it might be harder for a larger system such as Pike to switch to the four-day week, but it is possible, as long as the system "has the right kind of buy-in, the right kind of preparatory work, and the ability to see through the fog and look at all the benefits."

However, without the right buy-in, preparation, vision, and full support of the community, parents, and school officials, a district should not try to change its schedule, Kemp said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-06-14-08 1029EDT


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