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Townsend schools discuss how the four-day school week is going

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Posted at 11:10 AM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 13:10:03-05

HELENA — Beginning this school year, Townsend schools switched to a four day school week and introduced a 5th Day Program for kids who need a place to go on the off day. MTN checked in with them to see how that’s been going.

“It’s working very well. And we’re not seeing, our staff is either on track with their curriculum or ahead of curriculum,” says K-5 Elementary Principal & Afterschool Program Director, Christina Hartmann.

The Office of Public Instruction says more than 220 schools in districts across the state have adopted a four day week. Townsend administrators decided to adopt the short school week to improve teacher recruitment and retention. Hartmann says they’ve seen positive outcomes from the transition.

“We are seeing a better attendance. Our students’ scores are great. We’re not seeing anything in decline on those. The staff morale is even better,” says Hartmann.

One challenge typically associated with schools that adopt a four day week is working parents having to find child care for that fifth day. To help parents, Townsend adopted what they call the 5th Day Program. The day is designed to be a pseudo-school day in which kids can participate in fun yet educational options such as pottery, guitar, e-sports, or tutoring, as well as receive a free lunch. The program is offered to all enrolled students, but currently only serves 40-60 kids on average.

Without this 5th Day Program, funded by a 5-year 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, the impact of this four day school week might look a lot different as Broadwater County is considered a child care desert where only 18% of potential demand for child care is being met.

“We had to have something for them on that fifth day because a lot of families do work outside of town. They’re not here locally,” says Hartmann.

Parents I spoke with in Townsend say the 4 day school week has been mostly positive. Mikhalia Harper, a parent of a kindergartner, says that she enjoys having her child home for an extra day and uses it to go to appointments.

“I really appreciate it because, you know, he gets an extra day at home. And we actually use that Friday for appointments. So, it works out perfectly,” says Harper.

Another district researching the four day week option is East Helena Public Schools. Superintendent Dan Rispens emphasized that they are still in the early stages of studying the idea and that they would not make any decision without community consensus and support.

“If it’s something that’s going to benefit families and help with student attendance and student achievement, then how could you not be in favor of something like that? If it’s something that’s going to be detrimental for our families and for our students and their learning, then I wouldn’t be supportive of it,” says Rispens.

Rispens says any changes are years away at the earliest, and if they did make a switch, they would consider programs like Townsend’s 5th Day Program to support working parents.