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Four-day week will cut absences, superintendent says

Saving money was not a reason for the change, Superintendent Rick Ruckman says

Copan Public Schools in northeastern Oklahoma is trying something new to attract teachers and reduce absences: a four-day week.

Though some districts have chosen this schedule to lower transportation and utility costs, saving money was not a reason for the change, Superintendent Rick Ruckman says.

Rather, the rural district of 220 students was having trouble finding qualified candidates to fill a high school science teaching position: two months after the job was posted, no one had applied. A state Department of Education officer suggested attracting teachers with a four-day week, as two nearby districts, Barnsdall Public Schools and Liberty Public Schools, had done in recent years.

“We realized there were a lot of positive outcomes from the four-day week,” Ruckman says. Most students participate in athletics or agriculture extracurriculars, and many use up their 10 allotted activity absences early in the year for tournaments and competitions that occur on Fridays.

“If we didn’t have activity absences on Fridays because we didn’t have class on Fridays, it would help those kids be involved in any activities they wanted,” Ruckman says. The new schedule, which was approved by the school board in July, should also cut down on regular absences for doctor’s appointments, which can now be made on Fridays, he adds. “So far, it’s been great,” Ruckman says. “The teachers and kids are excited.”

Appears to be working

Classes, which began Aug. 6, start at 7:45 a.m. for elementary students and 7:50 a.m. for junior high and high school, and dismiss at 3:25 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively. Bus routes run 20 minutes earlier in the mornings and 30 minutes later in the evenings than they did last year.

The district held a public forum before seeking board approval, and did not receive any negative responses from parents, Ruckman says. Administrators from the Barnsdall district—which switched to a four-day schedule five years ago—attended to answer questions.

Some local churches and high school student babysitters have offered to provide childcare on Fridays. But no parents have come forward asking for help yet, Ruckman says.

As of 2009, some 120 districts across 21 states were operating on a four-day schedule, according to a report from the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University.

The schedule has primarily been implemented in rural districts where transportation costs are higher because students taking the bus are spread out across a large geographic area. The schedule is most popular in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. And results show that so far student achievement is not adversely impacted significantly, the report states.