SUGAR CITY — The Sugar-Salem School Board has agreed to go with an updated five-day school calendar rather than a four-day one. It plans to use the amended calendar for its 2019-2020 school year.

The council made the decision during its recent school board meeting held on Thursday. There, the board agreed to use a five-day calendar where teachers would have an added four days or a total of nine teacher development days each school year. Those extra days would be held once a month on Friday, and students would not attend that day.

The amended calendar shows that the district will continue to release students early on Friday. Potato Harvest, Spring Break and Christmas Break will be held as normal. One main difference is that the district will start school one day earlier, on Aug 21, and will end five days later than normal, on June 5.

The school board stated it believed going to a four-day school week would be too much of an adjustment for the entire community, and that the adjusted five-day schedule would be a great way to provide professional development for its teachers.

School board member Kristen Galbraith said she’d prefer that the school district stay with a five-day school week.

“I just don’t feel comfortable making the decision to move to a four-day week yet,” she said.

Galbraith said that she had heard from numerous residents the concerns they had for switching to a four-day school week.

“I’ve been hearing some very valid concerns from the very beginning (about) the change in the culture to the four-day week. I guess, ultimately, I don’t think we still have had time – I just don’t feel comfortable making the decisions to move to a four-day week yet,” she said.

Galbraith said she might be open to a four-day school week in the future with additional input and investigation into the pros and cons of doing so.

School board member Greg Stoddard agreed with Galbraith. He said that all the consideration into switching to a four-day school week had proven a difficult and challenging decision.

“This has probably been the toughest for me. It affects all the people in our district. When we first got into this, I felt pretty good about it, but I wasn’t 100 percent. I don’t know if I was at 50 percent,” he said. “I’ve really appreciated some of the things we’ve looked at. As we’ve gone through the process, I’ve talked to a lot of patrons from my district and from everyone else’s in our district. There’s a lot of pros for a four-day and a lot of pros for a five-day and visa versa.”

Stoddard says that he hasn’t felt impressed to go one way or the other.

“There’s really been no great light for that ‘this is right’ and ‘this is wrong.’ Because of that, I really have to go with my gut and what feels right. I’m not ready to say ‘to go to a four day right now.’ The more I thought about it, I feel (like) staying with a five day,” he said.

Stoddard said that before going with a four-day school week, he’d like the district to try its amended five-day school week first.

“I’d really like to call for a trial year of a five-day (school week). Let’s see what professional development one day a month will do, and if our teachers are really involved in it, and if it’s working,” he said. “If our teachers are seeing a benefit, maybe we could look at a four-day school week or tweak the five-day (school week).”

Stoddard said that he felt that the modified five-day school week was the way to go.

“I feel a five-day school week – I call it the safe direction. That’s my feeling. I know this has stirred the whole community. We’ve talked about it. We are struggling with it. I just feel that (five day school week) is the way we should go,” he said.

Stoddard thanked district patrons and teachers for all their help.

“We need that input. We need to know what is best for our community and for our district. I just really appreciate the support and the time you have all given to help us to work through this process,” he said.

School board member Doug McBride agreed with Stoddard and Galbraith and said he’d prefer that the district stick with a five-day school week.

“I think there is some really good merit to what we’re trying to accomplish and to do here. I don’t think I’m ready to do the four-day and to vote for that. I think we need a little transition time. We need to work with (teachers’) professional development to see how that works. This is always something we can work into,” he said.

McBride said he was impressed with the good response the school district had received concerning the four-day/five-day school week.

“I had no idea the results would come back like this,” he said.

Earlier this month, the school board sent out around 700 surveys to school patrons to vote on the proposed four-day week change. About 248 residents responded with 49 percent being in favor of the change and 39 against it. The remaining percentages were either undecided or had no opinion about the change.

Stoddard thanked Superintendent Chester Bradshaw for bringing the four-day school week proposal to the board. He noted that the five-day school week had been a part of the school board members lives, and that the four-day week caused board members to look at things from a different perspective.

“When this first came up, we could have kyboshed it as a board back in October when it was brought up. I’m grateful you brought some of these up and made us think outside of the box. We’ve come a long way in that direction and in our thinking,” he said.

Stoddard said he knew that not everyone liked the idea, and that Bradshaw had been the target of some negative comments.

“You got a little bit of a bad rap — a bad guy, a new guy. It’s what you believed in and thought would be best. We can disagree on a lot of things, and I really appreciate the discussion we’ve had,” he said.

Stoddard noted that it’s been a long time since a topic has caused a stir of such significance in the Sugar-Salem School District.

“What an amazing process and road we’ve been on. I really appreciate that. I want our patrons to know that we support you. We appreciate what you’re doing. Keep thinking outside of the box,” he said.

Bradshaw said that no matter what the school district decided, the district still wins.

“No matter what, we’ve already won. I see success. There is not a bad choice,” he said.

Last fall, the school district suggested going to the four-day school week citing the need for more teacher development. They also proposed the adapted five-day school week the board has opted to go with.

The hope in providing more professional development is not so much about increasing test scores but in improving everything about the Sugar-Salem School District, Galbraith said.

“It’s not just for better grades. I hope it translates everything into going a little better. We have phenomenal teachers. Everybody wants to be the best they can but don’t have time to grow professionally, and it’s hard,” she said. “This will give our teachers an opportunity to have those professional development days and the different things professionally they’d like to. Everybody likes to grow professionally in their profession. This will give our teachers the opportunity to do that.”

For more information on the board’s decision, visit https://www.sugarsalem.org/.