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Winner, Bon Homme fit school week in four days

WINNER--Most people look forward to Fridays, but a couple of area schools say "TGIF" for different reasons. Of the 150 school districts listed on the South Dakota Department of Education website, 34 use a four-day school week instead of the tradi...

Students at Winner High School make their way to their next class during passing period on Thursday afternoon in Winner. The Winner School District and the Bon Homme School District are the only two area school districts that run on a four-day school week. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Students at Winner High School make their way to their next class during passing period on Thursday afternoon in Winner. The Winner School District and the Bon Homme School District are the only two area school districts that run on a four-day school week. (Matt Gade/Republic)

WINNER-Most people look forward to Fridays, but a couple of area schools say "TGIF" for different reasons.

Of the 150 school districts listed on the South Dakota Department of Education website, 34 use a four-day school week instead of the traditional five-day week, and one uses a modified schedule. In The Daily Republic's print circulation area, two schools follow a four-day school week schedule: Winner School District and the Bon Homme School District.

While reasons for using a four-day school week vary, officials from Winner and Bon Homme schools called the four-day school week schedule a positive for students, teachers, parents and administrators.

"I think a four-day school week is advantageous for several reasons," said Bon Homme Superintendent Mike Elsberry, citing more planning time for staff and administrators at the top of the list. "That is advantageous for our students."

He also said the school provides tutor time on Fridays for students who may need extra help, which he said many students utilize.

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Officials at Winner said the four-day school week's advantages include a more consistent schedule, the implementation of an "early warning system" for students and more time for students to receive extra help from teachers.

"It's really helped us to help some students who have extra needs," said Winner Middle School/High School Principal Gerald Witte.

Elsberry said Bon Homme instituted the four-day week eight to 10 years ago. Winner School District implemented the four-day school week during the 2011-12 school year, after a school board member presented the idea. The school sent surveys to staff members and to students' parents to gauge interest. Witte pulled out a copy of the first "before" survey, which showed only 46 percent of elementary were in favor of the switch, while 40 percent didn't. At the middle school, the response was 52 percent to 35, and the high school was 49 to 36 percent. It was "enough to give it a shot," Witte said.

After one year, the survey results were much different-Witte said 78 to 80 percent of people favored the four-day school week.

"It was a huge, huge jump in support," Witte said. "And I don't think it's wavered down."

'Our calendar is pretty sacred'

Officials said one benefit of the four-day week is a more consistent schedule. Since classes are Monday through Thursday, there are no more half-days or early dismissals during the week-barring a weather event or emergency.

"Our calendar is pretty sacred," Witte said. "I think our parents have really, really bought into that and really like that."

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Winner Business Manager Laura Root said the schedule allows teachers to get through more material during the week, because there are fewer interruptions. Officials at both schools also noted the four-day school week allows activities, like basketball games, can be scheduled on a Thursday or Friday night, which means students don't have to return to school after a late night. Elsberry said he thinks that helps with class attendance and participation. Both schools also said they use Fridays to provide extra help for students who need it.

In Winner, staff are available from 8 to 11:30 a.m. to help students. The program looks different at the elementary and middle/high school levels, but Witte and Elementary School Principal Brian Naasz agreed that it provides students with the same opportunity: more help if they want it.

At the middle and high school, students may be referred to the student/staff Fridays by a teacher, or can attend of their own volition. At the elementary school, Naasz said most students come in for remedial help in subjects such as reading and math.

"And if we can give them a little extra help, give them a little boost, that's just going to benefit down the road," he said.

Though attendance at the student/staff Fridays varies from week to week, Witte said about 80-100 middle and high school students attend each week, while Naasz estimated there are about 120-150 elementary school students.

In 2011, Winner also implemented the school's early warning system. Witte and Naasz said the early warning system is designed to help identify and address student needs.

While the process looks slightly different at the elementary, middle and high school levels, Witte and Naasz said the system puts staff into teams, which meet once a month and talk about each of the 721 students in the Winner School District.

From attendance to behavior to grades, Witte said the meetings give educators a chance to identify potential issues and develop recommendations to help each student.

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"Our main focus of that is to try to find supports to implement so that they indeed end up as graduates rather than dropouts or transfers," Witte said.

Naasz said it's been effective, too. Having several people focus on a particular student means more, and sometimes better, ideas. Helping students early on is important, too, he said.

"It's our goal that we can catch things a lot sooner with the EWS than without it," Naasz said.

'It really works well'

Winner School Superintendent Bruce Carrier said one of the main concerns people cite for the four-day week is losing instructional time, but that hasn't been the case. Before, there were about 170 student days. Now, there are 151 days. Witte said the school made up for fewer days by extending the school day by 30 minutes; instead of school ending at 3 p.m., it now ends at 3:30 p.m.

Carrier said the school is exceeding its obligation to the Department of Education for instructional time. For grades 1-3, the department requires a minimum of 875.5 hours; for grades 4-12, the department requires 962.5 hours. Carrier said Winner puts in 1,023.2 hours per school year at grades 1-4, which is 147.7 hours (22.15 days) more than the grades 1-3 minimum, and 60.7 hours (9.1 days) more than the grade 4 hours. For grades 6-12, Carrier said Winner puts in 1,000.5 hours per year, which is 38 hours (5.1) days more than the minimum set by the department.

"We just don't slip by of what the minimum requirement is," he said. "It's quite a few hours over that."

While Carrier said he hopes to take a hard look at how the four-day week has affected student achievement scores, he said test scores did not go down after the new system was implemented. Elsberry agreed, saying he thinks student achievement scores in Bon Homme have remained steady.

Some schools, like Stanley County, have looked at returning to the five-day school week in recent years. Stanley County Superintendent Dan Martin said the school switched to a four-day school week in 2008-09, and has been discussing returning to the five-day school week for about two years. He said the reasons vary, but cited concerns within the community. A survey on the school's website shows most parents of current students and teachers support remaining with the four-day school week, but community members favor a return to the five-day school week 58 percent to 39.8 percent.

Carrier said he has had no complaints brought to him about the four-day school week, and he and other Winner officials cited the Friday programs as a large factor behind the community and school district rallying behind the four-day school week. Carrier, who started as superintendent in Winner the year the four-day week was implemented, admits he came from a five-day school week system and was skeptical of the change. Now he really enjoys it, he said, citing the student/staff Fridays as a strong reason the four-day system works.

"I know as a parent, I would never want to go back to a five-day school week," Root said. "It really works well."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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