Olney-Bissell moves to four-day week

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Olney-Bissell School will move to a four-day week beginning this fall.

Olney-Bissell will be in session Monday through Thursday starting in the 2018-19 school year. The school day will start 30 minutes earlier at 7:55 a.m. and release 15 minutes later at 3:45 p.m.

For the middle school grades, the school is looking at a hybrid block system of core subjects ­­— math, English and social studies — to 90 minutes with electives remaining at 60 minutes.

There is one exception to the Monday through Thursday schedule. Students will attend school on Fridays on weeks when there is no school on Mondays due to national holidays.

In Montana, schools must provide a minimum of 1,080 hours of instruction for grades fourth through 12th. For first through third grade, 720 hours of instruction is required. Kindergarten requires either 360 or 720 hours, depending on if a program is part-time or full-time.

Olney-Bissell Principal Trevor Dahlman said the move to a four-day school week isn’t for budgetary reasons, although that will be impacted. A goal of the change is improve student attendance. It’s often the case that many extracurricular activities and appointments are made on Fridays, according Dahlman. Another aim is to enhance professional development and teacher planning by dedicating a Friday each month to those efforts. In addition, the school district hopes the change will serve as an incentive to recruit and retain teachers while drawing more students to enroll in the district.

One concern from a parent and teacher perspective was if all the academic material to meet state standards could be covered.

“Planning time will have to be used wisely,” Dahlman said, adding, “Cross-curricular activities will help us to cover standards.”

Some additional assessments may be given to ensure students are progressing academically, Dahlman said.

“We want to make sure kids are excelling and not flatlining,” he said. “For the most part, our teachers are on board.”

Olney-Bissell created an online survey and held a community forum to gather input. The results were positive with 37 responses, according to Dahlman who noted that 46 families have children enrolled in the school. Of the responses, 86 percent said they would be interested in a four-day week next school year.

One of the questions typically raised by school districts looking to move to a four-day week is how many families will need to find and pay for daycare or other supervision. One of the survey questions asked if parents would have their children attend a day camp if offered at the school. About 83 percent responded “no” according to Dahlman.

“A lot of parents are really excited to spend that extra time with their kids, go up to the mountain to ski on Fridays, go hunting or camping,” he said.

Dahlman said the school began looking at the possibility of a four-day week this winter. He said an Office of Public Instruction training for administrators and school board members “challenged us to think about taking a fresh look at things, and one of them was the standard school day, school week and school year.”

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