More Texas school districts move to four-day week amid teacher shortage

CHICO, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Friday was one of the last days some students will be in school, not just this school year, but maybe for every year going forward.

More Texas school districts are changing their schedules next year to four-day weeks, seeing it as a way to retain overworked staff and possibly attract new talent in the midst of a teacher shortage.

The district doesn’t know if it will work. The last two years though, Chico ISD didn’t have a single applicant for an open Spanish-speaking position. Since announcing the move to a four-day week, four people have applied. Other jobs that used to get five applications now see numbers rising above 20. The district hasn’t changed anything else, including the pay scale.

“The work model in 2022 looks significantly different across the nation than it did 20 years ago when I started in education,” said Chico ISD superintendent Randy Brawner, who started looking into the change just a few months after he took the position last spring.

Brawner says he was spurred to do something by a staff and student body that looked worn-out as the school year started. He also saw other school districts in the state, most of them smaller and rural like Chico, shortening their weeks.

His administrative staff didn’t buy in right away. High school principal Breann Cox said she immediately went to work trying to pick the idea apart. Her concern was the parts of school kids like, would be pushed out with instruction being squeezed into fewer days.

In researching the idea, Cox said she didn’t want to rely solely on studies or data. School districts in more than half the states in the U.S. have moved to the shorter schedule now. A study from the Rand Corporation last year found test scores in four-day districts improved more slowly, but families and students highly valued the additional time.

Cox said she instead relied on speaking to students and adults who had experienced the schedule, and found there would be opportunities that don’t exist in a five-day week.

“Our kids who are in ag, could come work on their ag projects,” she said. “Or athletics can meet and have a team meal together. All the stuff that’s important that you just don’t have time for.”

She expects Fridays set aside now as professional development days for staff will be beneficial for young teachers learning on the job.

In a survey sent to staff as the district was considering the change last year, 98% of them were in favor of the change.

The response from parents was not quite as overwhelming, with just under 80% in support of the move. Most of the concern, Brawner said, was due to arranging care or activities for children during Fridays off while parents work. Other districts though told him the issues seemed to wane after the first few months of the change, and he’s tried to reassure parents that during days off on the current schedule, they are able to find a way to make it work.

While still somewhat of an early adopter, Chico may see more districts follow soon. Gordon and Graford are on four-day schedules in Palo Pinto County. Mineral Wells discussed it at the school board meeting this week. As many as 15 in TX have committed to the change, and Brawner expects the hiring advantages alone may push larger districts to accept the idea.

“If we can surround the kids with great teachers, we’re not going to miss a beat on instruction.”

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