Board of Education discusses 4-day school week

by Charles Gerian

Blackwell Public Schools may adopt a four-day school week under a proposal that was put before the Blackwell Board of Education in a meeting on Thursday, February 14. A community meeting to discus the plan will be held tonight in the Blackwell High School Study Center.

On Thursday night, the school administration office was filled as parents and community members voiced their opinions about the proposed four-day week. Local father Jared Grell was in that number.

Grell was one of several Blackwell citizens who joined a special committee formed at the behest of the board to deliberate the pros and cons of the shortened week. Grell presented the committee's findings to the board.

Grell said one of the benefits the committee found was that a four-day week may help improve the district's teacher recruitment efforts. Over the last several years, Oklahoma lawmakers have reduced funding for public schools, leaving some Oklahoma schools to cut the number of instructional days they have in order to retain teachers.

“We don't have money to offer [to attract teachers to Blackwell],” Grell said. “Time was the only thing, so we seriously started looking at a four-day week.”

Grell said the committee has discussed how some students do not have certified science and math teachers, saying that the lack of qualified applicants is “alarming.”

“Our lack of teachers applying [for jobs in the school district] shows greatly. I think the students leaving and going to other communities shows greatly, and when we hash it out … [a four-day week] is our only option,” he said.

Grell admitted, however, that the four-day schedule has downsides.

“There's cons to it, and we discussed those,” he said. “What are the kids going to do on Fridays? What do we do with support staff? [But] four days with certified teachers who know how to manage classrooms, who know how to manage kids, is better than five days with a substitute or someone who hasn't been trained. That's not saying these aren't good people. I know them, I know they are, I go to church with them. They're great people, they just haven't been trained. Not that they won't be there in two or three years or that they won't be the best in 10.”

If the plan were adopted, Blackwell would join dozens of other Oklahoma schools that have adopted a four-day week. Grell said the committee talked to some of those districts to see how the schedule worked for them. He said the four-day week “did everything [the schools] wanted it to” in the way of retaining teachers and improving attendance for both students and faculty.

However, definitive metrics regarding student performance were not found, he said.

“We don't know if their test score are better or worse, but we don't know on a five-day [week] if our scores are better or worse because we've changed goal posts across the state,” he said. “Bottom line is, we can't risk doing nothing.”

When it came time to vote on the measure, the board took a step back. Board member Doug Hodges said that the board needed more time to think the plan over and confer with parents. But board member Stacey Husted said that the board “had plenty of time to examine the plan” and that action was “needed now.”

Ultimately, the board voted to table the proposal. Board members then planned a community meeting for tonight in the high school study center. The public is asked to attend the meeting, which will begin at 8 p.m.

Blackwell High School is located 303 East Coolidge Avenue.

The board is slated to take a final vote on the plan in a specially-scheduled meeting on Monday, February 25. That meeting, which will also be held at the district's central office, will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The district's central office is located at 201 East Blackwell Avenue.

In other news at the Thursday meeting, the board voted to approve the district's overtime compensation policies. Board members also approved policies regarding suspensions, demotions, terminations, and benefits for school employees.

Also at the meeting, school principals from across the district presented their reports. Superintendent Rick Riggs noted that the roofing project at Blackwell High School was “going well.” American Roofing, the project's contractor, was “doing the best it could” in spite of recent inclement weather, he said.

The board also convened in executive session to discuss the employment of district administrators and directors for the 2019-2020 school year. These positions include school principals, assistant principals, and directors for the programs of special education, athletics, and federal programs. All of the hirings for the positions were approved.