Teacher retention concerns revive push for four-day schools

BLACKFOOT — Shelley School District board chair Cole Clinger summed up a recent concern in his district with one word: “sandwiched.”

To Shelley’s south, the Firth School District operates on a four-day school week. To its north, the larger Bonneville and Idaho Falls districts provide higher pay for veteran teachers.

Losing teachers to the prospect of a shorter workweek or a bigger paycheck in surrounding districts has been a reality for Shelley, Klinger recently told EdNews. So trustees last week approved the adoption of a four-day school schedule starting next school year.

The decision accompanies a revived push for four-day schools in at least three East Idaho districts. Last fall, Southeast Idaho’s West Side School District made the same move, for the same reason. Blackfoot, one of East Idaho’s largest districts, located within 20 miles of Shelley, could soon follow suit.

“In the very near future, we will likely be the only school district in Bingham County that is not on a four-day school week,” said Blackfoot Superintendent Brian Kress, whose 3,800-student district has three charters within its own boundaries that are already on a four-day schedule.

Blackfoot is still mulling the change, though dropping Fridays from the calendar has become routine in much of rural Idaho. With Shelley on board, nearly half — 17 of 36 — of the districts and charters in East Idaho’s 13 counties have approved a four-day schedule, according to numbers from the State Department of Education.

East Idaho districts and charters that have approved a four-day school week: Marsh Valley, Bear Lake, Snake River, Firth, Shelley, Grace, North Gem, Soda Springs, Clark County, SEI Tech, Preston, West Side, Oneida, Rockland, Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, Bingham Academy, Idaho Science and Technology Charter School.

Numbers from 2015 show Idaho had more students in four-day schools than five of its neighboring states.

While advocates tout several benefits of a four-day week, including nominal savings and increased student attendance, leaders in Blackfoot, Shelley and West Side said teacher recruitment and retention fuel the push.

“That’s been the biggest thing here,” said Barzee, who along with Kress has openly opposed adopting a four-day week in the past.

Blackfoot plans to hold a board work session to probe “research-based” data to gauge impacts the change could bring, Kress said.

Earlier data revealed inconclusive — but troubling — test scores for students in Idaho’s four-day schools.

Barzee, who’s rounding out a doctoral thesis on the topic, said student achievement was central to the four-day debate in his district. “I found no significant difference between four-day and five-day districts.”

Further Reading: In 2015, EdNews took an in-depth look at the trend toward four-day schools in Idaho. Click here for the eight-part series.

EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this story. 

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Devin co-hosts "Beyond the Books" online news segments in conjunction with EastIdahoNews.com. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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