Our View: Keep five-day school schedule

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The Hayden School District is contemplating using a four-day school week for a portion of the school year.

We understand the thought process behind the proposal, but we fear such a move will trigger a transition of Hayden students to Steamboat Springs or other districts. Already, about 5 percent of Hayden's students -- 27 of 499 -- attend Steamboat Springs schools. Seeing that number increase could mean a significant loss of funds for Hayden, which already is financially strapped.

Hayden is studying a four-day school week for about 13 weeks between Thanksgiving and spring break. School days would be lengthened by at least 33 minutes per day. Although school would be closed for students on Fridays, teachers would work at least four hours on 10 of those Fridays.

Although untraditional, the four-day school week is not uncommon in Colorado. According to a 2003 Colorado Department of Education study, 51 of the state's 178 school districts used a four-day week at one or more of their schools in the 2003-04 school year. The East Grand School District in Granby has a four-day week, and Moffat County uses such a calendar for its elementary school in Maybell.

Although 28 percent of the state's districts used the four-day calendar, most of those districts are very small. In fact, fewer than 10,000 students -- just 1.3 percent of the students statewide -- are enrolled in a four-day school week. Most of the districts are isolated and rural.

According to the CDE study, the biggest advantages to the four-day week are financial. Transportation and food-service costs can be reduced by 20 percent. Utility costs in districts that close school facilities on the off-day also are reduced.

One of the big concerns about the four-day week is child care. The CDE report noted that in many districts, parents have found it easier to arrange for child care for one full day each week rather than for partial periods for five days per week. The study found the four-day week reduced the number of "latchkey" children. It also found the four-day week was most often used in school districts with an above-average number of parents who do not work outside the home.

Hayden began researching the four-day week as a cost-saving measure, but the estimates showed that a minimum of $10,000 would be saved, about $20 per student per year. That doesn't justify the schedule. But the schedule still appeals to the district because it would provide more time for staff development and training, including student assessment, curriculum development, curriculum alignment and teacher collaboration.

We think Hayden is not a good candidate for the four-day school week. Increasingly, the town is composed of families whose parents commute to Steamboat Springs for work. There already are incentives -- bigger schools with more opportunities and higher test scores and ratings -- for those families to enroll their children in Steamboat schools. Asking those families to juggle new child-care arrangements, we think, will push more families to enroll their children in Steamboat.

Finally, though the CDE report indicates there is no conclusive data showing what effect the four-day school week has on student performance, we think students are unlikely to benefit from fewer contact days with teachers. We should be looking for ways to increase, not decrease, the time children are in the classroom.

The Hayden schools are central to the town's sense of community, and we appreciate the school district's open-minded approach to alternative methods of addressing financial and educational challenges. But we're afraid moving to a four-day school week ultimately will do the district -- thus, the community -- more harm than good.

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