Challis embraces change — but with reservations

Rescheduled Education logoChallis High School senior Shayanne Bradshaw has never attended school on Friday.

Neither have most of her 372 classmates in the mountainous, rural district in Central Idaho’s Custer County.

Leaders of the Challis School District switched to a four-day weekly calendar in the 2003-2004 school year.
The Challis School District switched to a four-day calendar in 2003-04.

In 2003-04, district leaders switched from a five-day schedule to a four-day weekly calendar, hoping to cut transportation costs, alleviate the stress of weekday athletic events and give families a chance to run errands and schedule medical appoints.

Most of the 20-plus people in Challis interviewed for this article — students, teachers, administrators, parents and residents — endorse the four-day calendar. Over the past 12 years it has become a way of life, there is no organized movement to go back and adults generally love the three-day weekends.

But not everyone is convinced, especially if asked what is best for academics.

On Fridays, schools are generally empty. Teachers can come in to catch up or grade papers. Once a month, the staff comes together for professional development or collaboration. For the most part, things are quiet on Fridays — in schools and around town.

When Challis made the switch, only one other district in Idaho had a four-day calendar. The change occurred before Bradshaw and her classmates attended their first day of kindergarten.

To compensate for the shorter weeks and to meet state instructional requirements, Challis officials tacked on time to the end of the day. Now, school runs from 8:20 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. — just a tick under eight hours.

“I think even though the five-day week is longer, I feel like we still get more opportunities with our longer days and longer class periods but shorter week,” Bradshaw said. “ We get an opportunity to do things on Fridays and the weekends, and it make it easier for us to leave on a three-hour drive to, say, Walmart.”

Challis Superintendent Peter McPherson supports the four-day week, and said he hasn't heard much discussion about switching back.
Challis district Superintendent Peter McPherson supports the four-day week, and said he hasn’t heard much discussion about switching back. (Photo by Clark Corbin, Idaho Education News.)

Bradshaw stays busy on Fridays, even without school. If she isn’t waitressing at the Village Inn, she’s playing volleyball, basketball or competing in the school’s rodeo program, where she participates in team roping and barrel racing.

And if she isn’t doing that, she’s usually preparing to attend a Challis Vikings football game — even on the road, and even if it requires a four-hour trip to Grace.

When she was younger, her mom either worked from home or took long weekends as well, so supervision wasn’t a problem.

“Our education is really good here,” she said. “Most people say our education is really advanced, even compared to the bigger schools.”

But some educators worry.

Special education and preschool teacher Karen Coonts said the eight-hour days are too much for elementary special education students. Every afternoon, and especially on Thursdays, they are out of gas and struggling to focus. Her biggest fear is that the longer schedule means Thursdays are largely wasted.

“We have to regroup and reteach (on Mondays) and it goes on and on again,” Coonts said. “As far as looking at it from a special education standpoint, I’ve been disappointed.”

Coonts would prefer shorter days and longer breaks. She would even prefer a year-round five-day model.

“I think it comes down to fairness across the state,” Coonts said. “The special education kids at Challis are not getting the same education and the same opportunities as kids in Boise, Pocatello and Idaho Falls where they have opportunity five days a week.”

Parent Kerrie Schmuck also has concerns. On a recent Friday, Schmuck was working at the local library. She also substitute teaches, works with the local search and rescue outfit and babysits. Often when she works on Fridays, she has to find a sitter to watch her children, ages 8 and 5.

Sometimes the sitter and her children go out for ice cream on Fridays. Other times, they head to the local bowling alley. Finding a sitter in a community with a population of 1,056 can be tough, especially when 373 children are off school every Friday. When Schmuck finds a sitter, it is never easy.

“As a parent, I love the idea of a three-day weekend to be able to go do things,” Schmuck said. “But as a working mom, I don’t love it so much. When you have to go find a babysitter, if you’re working for minimum wage, all of that pay goes straight to the babysitter.”

Other parents say they have adapted. Often, older siblings to watch the younger ones. In multi-generation households, a responsible relative is always around or work on family ranches or farms alongside their children. And with the shuttering of two local mining operations over the past 10 years, the school district is now likely Challis’ largest employer — and all those employees get Fridays off.

“We really like it and the fact that we can get things done and not have the kids be so tired on the weekends,” said parent Brenda Bullock, who has an eighth-grader, a fifth-grader and an exchange student living with her family.

The Bullocks are outfitters, so for them, Fridays follow the season and their clientele, whether that means chasing deer or elk, steelhead fishing or setting up backcountry camp.

“We can even go on a mini-vacation if we want,” she added.

For Deborah Sheppeard, a 20-year veteran high school math teacher and volleyball coach, the four-day schedule forces her to be on her game and follow her curriculum strictly so that she can fit everything in. Whether or not all the work is done, when 4:10 p.m. rolls around on Thursdays, she shuts the books until Monday morning.

She supports the calendar, but has a few concerns. The eight-hour days may be too taxing for first- and second-graders, especially students who board a bus before 7 a.m. and won’t return home until 5 p.m. But the elementary school offers breaks and snack times, and students adjust.

“As a parent, I really like it, especially as the kids got older and involved in more activities,” Sheppeard said.

“Rescheduled Education” is the product of a partnership between Idaho Education News and Idaho Public Television. Reporting on the series are Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News and Seth Ogilvie and Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television. Video producers are Andrew Reed of Idaho Education News and Troy Shreve of Idaho Public Television. Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader compiled data for the series.

‘Rescheduled Education’ at a glance

Day One, Monday, Nov. 16

An unproven experiment, involving 26,881 Idaho students

Data dive: Surprising statistics on four-day schools

Day Two, Tuesday, Nov. 17

Four-day school test scores are inconclusive — but troubling

Sage and COSSA Academy: Two four-day outliers

Day Three, Wednesday, Nov. 18

A schedule change saves money. Just not much.

Preston upholds a decision driven by dollars

Day Four, Thursday, Nov. 19

Teachers and students adjust to longer school days

‘No time to waste:’ Notus runs at a fast pace

Day Five, Tuesday, Nov. 20

Across rural Idaho, four-day weeks become routine

Challis embraces change — but with reservations