When students in Washington’s Waterville School District head back to class at the end of August, three-day weekends will be the new norm as the district moves to a four-day school week.
Waterville School District, which is about 25 miles northeast of Wenatchee, is getting rid of Fridays in hopes of increasing staff retention and recruitment, boosting attendance, and improving the classroom experience.
“There is some real excitement with some families and staff,” said Waterville Superintendent Tabatha Mires.
The school year will have 30 fewer total days, but time in the classroom will actually increase, according to Mires. The district will add 27 minutes of class time per day to elementary and junior high school schedules and 57 minutes per day to high school schedules. Half-days and early-release days will also be eliminated.
Mires hopes the four-day week will help attract teachers to a small district, by offering them additional time to plan and grade student work.
In a small town that’s 45 minutes away from the nearest major doctor or dentist office, Mires said the move would give students and faculty time to schedule appointments and hopefully keep students in class on school days.
To be approved for a four-day week, Waterville had to apply to the Washington State Board of Education, which will re-evaluate the schedule next year.
Before applying, the school district said it conducted staff, student, and community surveys to gauge interest and concerns. Most people who took the survey were in favor of the change, according to Mires.
However, Mires stressed the district wanted to make sure the move was impacting students and families in a positive way.
“There is concern we are making the right decision for our students,” Mires said.
Waterville will track professional development outcomes, attendance, and academic growth throughout the year. If those indicators don’t trend positively, the school district could move back to a five-day week for the 2019-20 school year.
The district will not offer childcare, as one school district in Colorado that’s moving to a four-day week plans to do. Mires said childcare was not a “widespread concern” in community surveys, although it is difficult for the district to know how many families will be impacted by childcare based on nature of the survey.
“Families have been working to plan for that,” she said.
The four-day week in Washington was launched through a pilot program created by Washington state’s legislature in 2009. The legislation allowed up to five Washington school districts to operate on four-day weeks.
Waterville is the fifth school district in Washington state to implement a four-day week. It follows Selkirk and Cusick School Districts in Pend Oreille County, Paterson School District in Benton County, and Bickleton School District in Klickitat County.