It’s Thursday afternoon as parents line their cars up outside South Athens Elementary School to pick up their kids. In most districts, there’s just one more day before the weekend. In Athens, Texas, the weekend starts now.
Maria Romero likes it. “That way I can have more time with my kids,” says Romero, who got used to the altered school calendar.
“I understand some people work on Fridays, and they want their kids to be in school. But for me, to tell you the truth, I like better four days.”
Brianna Kramer, a few cars ahead, holds the opposite view.
“I don’t like it,” she says. “I have to pay for day care for the fifth day for me to work.”
More and more districts are struggling to hire and keep teachers. Now, some districts are trying a four-day school week as a way to lure teachers. In Texas, there are now a number of districts with four days on, three days off.
When they were considering a shorter week, school officials in Athens knew they’d face some pushback. The hours are longer, so the kids get the same amount of instruction time. But the district was also losing 1 of every 5 teachers each year. Superintendent Janie Sims said the teachers they did hire often lacked experience.
“We were getting a lot of the brand-new ones, which are great, but it also requires resources to train them, mentor them,” Sims said. “It requires our administrators to spend more time with them in development and that kind of thing.”
So, in 2019, Athens launched a three-year pilot program to keep and attract more teachers, with a Monday-through-Thursday school week. Parents were wary, but willing. A local employer even added a four-day workweek to help parents. Three years later, the school’s internal surveys show most people — including teachers — liked it. And the school started attracting more experienced teachers.
“That was a huge bonus,” Sims said.
Another bonus? The district’s students performed better on state test scores last year than they did in 2019, before the pandemic — despite COVID challenges. So, Athens’ four-day school week is now permanently in while five-day school is out forever.
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