DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO13) — Over the last five years, roughly, more school districts in Iowa have been increasingly considering a four-day school week.
The Waco Community School District was the first district in Iowa to adopt a four-day schedule year-round, back in the Fall 2013. According to the district, it started as a teacher-driven concept that rose out of financial concern.
Sandy Vantiger is a middle school English teacher at Waco. She was part of the committee of teachers who pushed this initiative 10 years ago. She said that her committee researched school districts throughout the country and in the state that had experience with this schedule.
According to Vantiger, the Pleasantville School District in Iowa held four-day weeks during the winter months. This was one of the districts Waco spoke with.
Now, Waco is a school district that other Iowa schools are reaching out to for advice on having four-day weeks. The district says that more schools started reaching out after the pandemic.
Vantiger said, “Always put students first. If there’s not going to be good for students, there’s no sense in doing it. You have to realize that when things are good for students, things go well for your staff too. If kids thrive, then the whole district will thrive, the staff will thrive.”
Vantiger said the model at Waco may not work for other districts and that other schools interested in holding classes only four days a week need to conduct research themselves on how it will look for their school.
For Waco, this was an effective change. According to the Principal of the Waco Junior and Senior High School, Tim Bartels, they had 96% attendance among students last year, which they say is a “major increase” from their attendance rates before they made the change.
Also, at a time when several school districts in the state are looking for more staff, Waco is fully staffed and often has to interview multiple candidates for open positions.
Bartels said, “[One Waco student] said, I get to go spend time with my grandparents. And I’m like, ‘Okay, why is that a thing,’ she was like, ‘I never would have before; my weekends are full. My week’s full, I don’t get to see them. They’re aging.’ And that’s just a big benefit. We have kids who go work on their farms. We have kids who do their college classes. We have kids who babysit. We have kids who do a whole bunch of different things.”
However, the reduced school week doesn’t bring only positive change.
The Cardinal Community School District is one of the latest districts to make the transition into a four-day week. They switched last November and are almost a year into the change.
Superintendent James Craig said that they made this switch for recruitment and retention of teachers, as well as to reduce the expenses for the year.
Craig said, “It does raise concerns for, again, supporting families as they go through that day. Needing daycare. Some students that are dependent on the school for food based on their family situation. So, so there are things that we’re still working on to make it successful.”
He also said that in order to meet state requirements, the school day has to be 30 minutes longer. However, the actual setup of each day and whether they want to add an extra class or make class time longer is dependent on each school district.
Waco and Cardinal are just two of the districts in Iowa that currently follow this schedule. Murray Community Schools is the latest district to undergo this change. They started this fall with four-day weeks. Mormon Trail and Moulton-Udell also follow these schedules as well.
The Waukee Community School District is one of the fastest-growing districts in Iowa. They have taken part in conversations about this schedule with the districts that have experience with it. However, this isn’t a change Waukee will undergo anytime soon.
A spokesperson for the district said, “We are working to better understand the concept of a four-day school week, as well as the pros and cons, but this isn’t something we are considering in the near future.”