It’s a Friday morning at Connally Independent School District in McLennan county. As the clock nears 8 AM and the Texas sun begins to peek through the hallway windows, instead of the usual hustle and bustle of backpacks and student chatter, the halls are empty.
That’s because as of September, Connally has adopted a four-day school week, letting students have Fridays off for the majority of the school year.
MICHAEL: “I think that students like it just for the idea that you would expect, which is, ‘oh my gosh I get Fridays off.’ Which, you know, everybody is super enthused about that.”
Michael Donaldson is the Director of Communications at Connally ISD, just one of more than 70 public school districts in Texas that have shifted into a four-day week as of this year. He says there are many reasons for the decision.
MICHAEL: “One was as a recruitment methodology so we could see about getting additional people to apply for some of our positions. We thought it would be a good way to treat our current employees.”
So how will a 4-day school week play out? Well, it operates differently for every district.
Some places, like China Spring, just outside of Waco in northwestern McLennan Country, have a strong focus on having teachers in front of students as much as possible according to Marc Faulkner, the superintendent for the district.
MARC: “We value our instructors in front of our kiddos, and there’s a lot to teach. And so, again this year, even on the four-day, our instructional minutes are a couple thousand over the required minimum number that the state requires.”
Connally, on the other hand, has a slightly different approach.
MICHAEL: “Our calendar that we ended up adopting is not, really, a true four day week. We have what’s called an intensive intervention calendar.”
The calendar is an approach to address individual students’ needs. This initiative allows students to return to school on two Fridays of each month, concluding their day at noon.
MICHAEL: “It lets us do work that might not be able to be accomplished in a traditional setting of the classroom.”
In 2015 Texas lawmakers passed a bill which altered how a school year was measured.
Instead of districts having to provide 180 days of class, schools now need to meet a minimum of 75,600 instructional minutes. This change allows districts to adopt the new four-week schedule.
Connally, China Spring and other rural districts in Texas say the new schedule gives them a competitive edge in their hiring process, helps to retain teachers, and provides more time for professional development.
For some educators, like Lisa Baucom, an English teacher and coach at Connally ISD, the decision offers a chance for both catching up on work and mental rest.
LISA: “I like the 4-day school week, I think it gives everybody a little bit of a break.”
Shifting to a four-day school week has the potential to boost teacher morale and give school districts a competitive edge. But it’s important to remember that this change doesn’t just stay within the classroom – its effects ripple out in various ways.
With longer school hours and Fridays off, the schedule significantly alters the fabric of family dynamics and child care arrangements.
Some guardians who are able to stay at home on Fridays are excited to receive an extra day with their children.
Other parents, like Jessica DePew Montgomery, voice a different sentiment, facing financial challenges posed by the need for expanded child care.
JESSICA: “I just started praying, I was like please don’t let this happen because I don’t know what that means for my job, for my finances. So, I’m sitting there in the meeting, shaking, like what am I gonna do? I work for a bank. They’re not gonna let me off Fridays. It really turned into a war against teachers, and that’s not where I was at.”
Education expert, Dr. Bill Sterrett, Department chair of Educational Leadership at Baylor University, says the most important part of this model is ensuring student benefit.
BILL: “I think we need to look at it closely, because an increasing number of schools and districts are looking at this as an opportunity. They see it as an opportunity, perhaps, to save on costs. Is this four day week the best thing for students? Is it right for kids?”
For 103.3 Waco Public Radio, I’m Autumn Jones.
Correction: The audio accompanying this story originally had the wrong direction for China Spring; it has been updated.