More than 50% of Colorado school districts have adopted a four-day school week. In the Salida School District in rural central Colorado, about 1,300 students have been on a four-day schedule since 2011. 1A Across America producer James Morrison spoke with David Blackburn, the superintendent of Salida, about how this works, what parents think of it and whether it impacts student performance.
Q: Why did your district adopt a four-day school week?
A: We adopted it for funding reasons stemming from the recession. While it’s not right for every district, our community embraced it. We’ve had a lot of success both academically and community wide.
Q: How have parents adapted to the four-day week?
A: Many have embraced it. It put the cultural onus back on families to raise and educate their children, and placed the schools back in a supportive role. Our more affluent families can afford to take days off and leverage that time with their kids. That leaves more school resources for less-affluent students. We use the “extra” day now to target students who need extra attention with extra programming. That extra programming is a community wide effort, not just a school effort.
Q: Has it impacted student performance?
A: We’ve seen a lot of improvement in test scores. When we started the four-day week in 2011, we were in the middle-of-the-pack (in student achievement scores). Since then, we’ve sustained being one of the top school districts in the state.
Q: How does a shorter week help achievement?
A: The implementation process we went through changed the mindset of teachers. Teachers felt like they had one less day, even though the minutes were the same. The result was greater focus in lessons. Every minute became precious. It isn’t how many minutes you go to school that matters; it is how many minutes the students are engaged in learning. Our engagement went up.
We got more quality hours even though we had the same number of minutes as a five-day week. Some students then used their day off for college prep courses. Student athletes who travel on Fridays missed less school.
Another huge advantage has been the ability to attract and retain quality teachers to the Colorado mountains. Teachers like it if they can enjoy an extra powder day of skiing. We can’t compete with urban salaries, but we can offer a better way of life.
Q: Would you go back to a five-day week?
A: No. The community wouldn’t support us going back to a five-day week. Even if we had more funding, I’d recommend keeping the four-day schedule and using the fifth day for student development programs. We’re currently developing a new set of programs with a local community college to offer trade certifications for all students on that “extra” day.