Gregg Klinginsmith, a Missouri superintendent, switched his district to a 4-day school week in 2019.
The district nixed a day in an effort to keep teachers from leaving for better pay in bigger cities.
Both students and teachers love the new schedule, and teacher retention is up after four years.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Gregg Klinginsmith, the superintendent of Warren County R-III School District in Warrenton, Missouri, about his experience overseeing the district's switch from a five-day school week to a four-day school week in 2019. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
We've elected to develop our calendar on a four-day school week. Every Monday is a day off for our staff and our students, which has really helped our community with consistency.
Kids in our school district go to school from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. We're in our fourth year of this; this is my fifth year as superintendent.
We are on the outskirts of suburban St. Louis and have about 3,000 kids. We have three elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. We're the first rural community outside of the suburban school districts. We have lots of farms in the area. We're definitely not a rich district.
One of the reasons we went to the four-day school week was because our neighboring districts in the large suburban areas paid a lot more than ours and we were facing a tremendous amount of teacher turnover.
We can't offer teachers more money, but we can offer them time.
Our starting pay is $36,941. The State of Missouri has a grant that allows us to give anybody making less than $38,000 a grant. So our teachers receive a package of $38,000 plus benefits.
Our base teacher pay has not changed in six years, and teachers can make about $20,000 more a year working in the suburban districts, which are only about 10 miles from us.
About 20% of our teachers left us each year because we had nothing to offer them except low pay.
I've been researching student achievement for a long, long time. I've been studying this very closely, and I know that the teacher in the classroom is key to student success. So whatever we can do to keep and maintain quality teachers in our school district is going to have a positive effect on our community.
We had to come up with something we could bargain with. We can't compete in pay, but we can give them time.
Time is what we're now using to retain our staff. The main focus is trying to provide the best working conditions for our staff.
At the same time, we hoped the schedule would help us see better student attendance. Knowing that kids wouldn't have to come to school as often meant we might actually see better attendance.
The same thing with discipline — if they're not here as much, they won't get in as much trouble.
We conducted a lot of research before making the switch.
There were about 60 districts in Missouri ahead of us that had gone to the four-day week, and they all had similar stories.
We have a good relationship with our school board, and everyone was brainstorming retention ideas. As a group, we decided that this schedule made sense for our community.
We were lucky to have a neighboring district that had been doing this schedule for about five or six years before we jumped on. They gave us a lot of information about how we could do it.
We did a tremendous amount of research. We studied for multiple years to determine what impacted student achievement because that was something we were really concerned about.
One of the things we saw that really did not impact student achievement was the total number of days that kids go to school.
Currently, in the state of Missouri, every school district is required to do 1,044 hours. You can structure your calendar however you like. There is a required start date from the state, but after that, it's really up to the local school districts and communities to determine how they want to get those 1,044 hours in.
We approved the new schedule in January 2019, and about half a year later, school resumed in August with four-day school weeks.
We've definitely seen a lot more districts move to four-day weeks since then. Around the state of Missouri, it's about 30% of districts now doing four-day weeks.
Currently, we're the largest in the state, student population-wise.
We offered a creative solution to parents' childcare concerns.
I was fairly confident that this new schedule would be a positive thing for us. My kids go to school here, too.
But before it was done, there were a lot of questions and some pushback from parents saying they didn't think it was a good idea. Childcare was the main concern.
I think the secret to our success is we still offer care days — optional learning days for students — free of charge to families in the district. If you want to bring your students up on a Monday, we have a program where you can bring your kids. We've addressed the issue for working parents of what to do with their kids on Monday.
The kids are typically engaged in STEM subjects, which include science, technology, engineering, and math.
At the same time, we also try to think about the whole child, too. We have mental-health therapies that are available on those days. We have had doctors come in and do physical exams for kids, wellness checks, and even haircuts.
We don't have a lot of kids who take advantage of the program, and that's been consistent with what most four-day week school districts told us, which is that there wouldn't be a big need for this, especially now that parents are working from home more.
Out of our 3,000 students, we have around 100 or so students that come in on Monday.
Our hourly staff — such as paraprofessionals and people in food service — lost hours when we made the switch. So we have them run the classrooms under the direction of a district director during care days.
Other things people were concerned about were academic achievement and test scores. Some patrons also raised concerns that no one would want to move here because we're a four-day week.
But that didn't turn out to be true. We've got 1,000 new homes scheduled to be built this year in our community. Our realtors have used the four-day week as a marketing tool to sell houses.
We've seen improvements in some areas and are hopeful for more progress.
Anytime you do anything new, there will always be some wrinkles you've got to work out.
But since then, we've had zero pushback. I've not had a negative email about it in four years.
And it's worked: We've seen about a 5% increase in teacher retention. We were at about a 20% loss of our teachers every year, and now we're closer to 15%.
Our goal is 10%. We're not quite there. We're still losing some, but not as drastically as before.
And what I'm hearing is how much teachers appreciate the work-life balance during the week. It has helped us with recruiting, even though we can't pay as much.
COVID has thrown off our analysis of student achievement. We don't know exactly how the schedule has impacted achievement, but we're finding it's about the same as before. We haven't seen a big drop-off in student achievement.
We are still seeing delays in getting our attendance where it should be. That is one of the disappointments of this — we thought our attendance would be much better.
COVID impacted it. We had some of the worst attendance in the state last year, but that was the same as when we had a five-day week. It's about the same attendance rate as before, but we were hoping to see it get better.
Students love the new schedule, though. Most of the high school kids I talk to work on Mondays, so they're gaining all this experience outside the classroom, which I think is valuable. They've got real-world experience. They get some things to put on their resume. And they're helping out our community.
It's been a good thing.
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