Sugar-Salem School District to survey parents about four or five day school week

The Sugar-Salem School district office is located on 105 Center St in Sugar City.

SUGAR CITY – The Sugar-Salem School District school board agreed to survey students’ parents via an email where they may vote for either a four-day or adapted five-day school week.

The board met Wednesday night where it opted to send out the survey for parents to vote “yes” or “no” to the five-day class schedule or to the four-day schedule where no class would be held on Friday. One Friday a month would be dedicated to teacher development that the board has been pushing since fall.

The school board plans to email the survey in the ensuing days and hopes to have results back by Feb. 20 when it plans to meet again. It asked board member Doug McBride to bring in a professional survey person to create the questionnaire.

“Given the nature of how this has been, I bet we get an 80 percent response. We have every parent on our e-mail. We can send an email to every parent. We won’t get every patron, but we’ll get every parent easily. They’re the most vested. It will be to whatever e-mail we have registered to their kid,” said Sugar-Salem School Superintendent Chester Bradshaw.

Board member Kristin Galbraith said she also liked the idea of a survey as it would give more patrons a chance to let the school board know their opinion.

“One thing I found interesting was that I talked to a lot of other people that don’t necessarily have an opinion. What they say to me is ‘I don’t really care one way or the other. I’m good.’ Those are the ones that we’re not hearing from that a survey would give a voice to. They can just click on,” she said.

Bradshaw said he wanted patrons to make a decision based on good information.

“I hope we’ve been giving good information. I’m not sure our community is 100 percent there. A lot of people are making a decision based on emotion,” he said.

The school district worked on several schedules before coming up with two current ones that it will ask patrons to vote on.

To begin with, the five-day schedule involves continuing with a five-day school week. That would mean a trimester schedule with a starting date of Wednesday Aug. 21. It would call for three parent-teacher conferences, and the issuance of three report cards. Currently, the school district does two parent-teacher conferences.

“We would do parent-teacher conferences on the early release days. We will have early releases every Friday like we’re continuing to have,” she said.

Currently high school youth leave school at 1:52 p.m. while junior high students leave at 1:45 p.m. Intermediate school children are dismissed at 1:50 p.m. while the elementary school children leave at 1:40 p.m.

The district would continue with its two-week harvest break in September. It would allow for make-up days in June if necessary.

“This five day scheduled doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility with early outs and snow days,” Galbraith said.

The five-day plan would also call for a week and a half off for Christmas break from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. There would be no school held on Civil Rights Day, Jan. 21, or on President’s Day, Feb. 18. It also called for two “special early-out days” during the year.

This schedule calls for 167 student days in the calendar. The high school’s schedule would be from 8:05 a.m. to 3:02 p.m. with each high school class being 74 minutes long. This translates into 15 total classes per year. School would end June 5.

There also wouldn’t be an option for Friday school for those students struggling in various subjects. Summer school would instead be a possibility for them. The board estimated that about 20 youth from each grade have attended summer school in the past.

“Extra curricular activities would take place like they do now on the evenings and weekends. There would be no change in teacher or student attendance,” Galbraith said.

As for the proposed four-day school week, it would start on Aug. 19. The four-day school week means that students wouldn’t attend classes on Fridays, and that teachers would receive personal development on the third Friday of every month.

Under this proposal, the school district is suggesting working under a semester program rather than a trimester one.

“We initially told patrons we would not do that (semesters). I said that. After having researched it, I think it might be better. This would give us two-parent teacher conferences. On the trimester, it would be a three parent teacher conferences,” she said.

Students on a four day week would attend on Fridays three times during the year. Two of those days would be to make up for holidays they would have off.

“(Those would be) two Fridays in September, one for Labor Day and the other one is for homecoming. All the kids will be here for homecoming. The other Friday would be held in May because we have Labor Day off,” Galbraith said.

The four-day school week would call for 151 student days with the high school starting classes at 8 a.m. and ending at 3:20 p.m. It would mean seven classes taught for 56 minutes each making for a total of 14 total classes for high school youth each year.

Galbraith noted that under the semester system, seven classes would be held for 56 minutes each. On the trimester, five classes are provided a day for 80 minutes each.

High School Principal Jared Jenks said that a trimester program wouldn’t work for teachers under the four-day program, but that a semester system would.

“As we looked at the calendar and visited with teachers at the high school on how a trimester would not work on a four-day school week, if you add four minutes to each class school period, it makes it very difficult to implement that lesson that you’re going teach on Friday. Four minutes does not allow you to implement that,” Jenks said. “Therefore, you’re essentially cutting 20 percent of what you’re currently teaching to move to a four-day week on a trimester. For us that’s not acceptable. Our teachers aren’t going to make that work. They’re not going to cut 20 percent of what we’re going to teach.”

What would teachers do about Friday’s missed lessons, Jenks asked.

“Should they teach two lessons on Tuesday? Two lessons on Wednesday? How do you teach that content?” he asked. “Cutting 20 percent of what we’re currently teaching doesn’t equate to a four-day week on a trimester. We believe (a semester) is the best option if a four-day week is the option. We need to make it feasible to deliver the content that’s necessary and be able to assure they be successful.”

Seven classes rather than five would likely mean more homework for children, Jenks said.

“I know that’s some of the thought process — kids think about having more homework. Logic tells you they probably will,” he said.

Galbraith reported that Fridays could be used for student make-up days, snow days or emergency closings. Fridays could eliminate the need for summer school, she said.

“Our Friday’s could absorb that,” she said. “We could shift the use of that (summer school) money we pay the teachers to do a Friday school instead. That is an option.”

Bradshaw agreed Friday could be used to help struggling students and could be done twice a month.

“What’s really cool is that we could catch kids before they get themselves into a hole. We’re talking about at-risk kids — not kids at high academic levels. It’s for the kids that need a little extra help. We can catch them in a safety net that’s built in,” he said. “You’ll have a whole bunch of Fridays available to you. On a five-day schedule, you’re only option is the second week in June.”

Unlike the five-day schedule, this calendar would allow for a two-week Christmas break. School would be held on Civil Rights and Presidents Day.

“The schools could do assemblies to recognize those,” Galbraith said.

No early outs would be provided during the four-day week. Yet, the four-day school week calendar would allow for extra curricular practices to be held on Fridays for large groups. It’s also anticipated that student and teacher attendance would increase, reported the board.

It was suggested that the board could consider the changed five-day school week for the next school year. It could later re-evaluate it and review it for a possible change to a four-day week at that point or return to the current system.

Galbraith said she didn’t know if the district needed to change everything in order to ensure professional development days.

“A lot of patrons spoke to us and two said ‘What’s your backup plan? You’re pushing this a little fast.’ This five-day schedule is kind of like a stepping-stone. It gives us what we need, and what we’re looking for without changing the dynamic of our community,” she said. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t be happy on a four-day week, but I’m not convinced that’s the direction we need to go. We could do the five-day next year and then come back in October or November and ask ‘How are we doing? What needs to be changed? Is a four-day what we need to do?’ We could go back to what we’ve always done.”

Bradshaw asked the board what they would do if patrons responded with the majority in favor of one calendar?

“What if a community survey comes back at 80 percent one way or the other. That would carry a lot of weight. What if it’s 50-50?” he asked.

School Board member Tyler Fillmore said that he doesn’t believe there is a right or wrong answer.

“When you talk about personal development days, we get them in a five-day week, we get them in a four-day week. There are pros and cons. My struggle is that going to a four-day week is going to disrupt everybody in the district,” he said. “As we’ve gone through this process, we’ve gone through over a dozen calendars which I think is great. As we’ve gone through each calendar, something else has come up. Right now I don’t feel comfortable moving forward with a four-day week given the amount of information we have learned. I feel there is a mountain of information we can learn moving forward through this process.”

Fillmore said that the school board has experienced a lot of its own personal development while trying to create a new calendar. He also stressed that the school board wasn’t pushing for professional development because of it finding fault with its teachers.

“I hope that none of our teachers think they are doing anything wrong. What we are doing is trying to give you the time to help better yourself — to help all of us better ourselves. Nobody’s perfect. We can all improve. We are a great school district. We’ve got to continually look at ways to be better, to look, to re-evaluate and to move forward,” he said. “I believe staying with a five-day week and giving us an opportunity to put professional days in that five-day week — see how that works. I would feel much more comfortable moving in that direction than moving to a four-day week today,” he said.

School Board member Whitney Crapo said that personal development made her think about the ways she could improve herself.

“I know better than anyone what my weaknesses are. I actually enjoy going to classes and things that would help me do better,” she said. “I heard from an administrator that we may be able to utilize the Idaho Coaching Network to bring other professionals in. Things are already happening. Good things are happening.”

Regardless of which schedule the school district opts for, Bradshaw said that the district has already achieved a great victory. Teachers will receive the personal development the school board wants them to have.

“We’ve already won. We’re shining the light on things that are most important. I really believe this. There are benefits in both schedules. Our administrators say ‘I can make either one work,’” he said. “Our teachers are going to be better for it, and so will our kids. This is hard stuff — cultural change. We’re trying to figure out where we are.”

It’s not about giving something up and leaving it on the table, Bradshaw said.

“That’s not it. It’s ‘Hey, where are we? What do we want for our kids? How are we going to get there?” he said.

Bradshaw plans to place the two proposed schedules on the school district’s website for patrons to view. For more information, visit https://www.sugarsalem.org/ or call 208-356-8802.