Dickson school board considers calendar with 4-day school weeks

Dickson school Superintendent Jamie Mitchell (center) speaks with board members in February about a proposed change to a 4-day school week for part of the 2024-2025 academic year while board members Jacob Tynes and Chris Pickens listen

DICKSON – In a community built around a school and named for a Carter County educator, school board members are considering a major shift for the community if and how Comets will have longer school days and longer weekends. While the school may be following a growing trend in the area, officials have to consider many moving parts if changing even part of the school year’s calendar.

“Calendars are always a tricky mess,” said Dickson Public Schools Superintendent Jamie Mitchell on Thursday. “Everyone has an opinion, yet we all have to compromise from year to year.”

School officials and board members discussed the proposal for nearly 30 minutes during their February regular meeting. Aside from obvious impacts on students and parents, the discussion also touched on teacher retention and recruitment, transportation, and even food security.

Why a 4-day school week?

Several schools across southern Oklahoma have implemented some form of 4-day school weeks over the past several years, and Mitchell said the proposed change in Dickson comes at the request of staff who would like to see the district follow suit.

Before coming to Dickson at the beginning of this school year, Mitchell was the superintendent of Cyril Public Schools in Caddo County which also saw a shift to a 4-day school week schedule because of neighboring districts making the shift.

“The staff and the community just have to figure out what works best to serve the kids,” said Mitchell. “Whether it’s more of a traditional 5-day school week or a 4-day school week, it just depends on the area.”

One leading cause for the shift is teacher retention. Thackerville Public Schools Superintendent Chad Broughton said that the move to condense classes Monday through Thursday this academic year has been popular at his Love County district.

“Teacher recruitment is big for us. We were able to fill all the open spots and in the past that hasn’t been the case. Just because we’re so close to Texas, we do have to battle them,” he said by phone on Wednesday.

As the district competes with schools for teachers from both sides of the Red River, school officials in Thackerville also had to consider the local community impact. Broughton said that many local parents are employed closer to Gainsville or Ardmore. With a lack of child care facilities in the Thackerville area, school officials had to consider what it would mean without the school open five days per week.

“That was our biggest concern, making sure our parents were okay and had a place for the little ones,” Broughton said. He said that surveys sent to the community ultimately showed about 85% support and the district moved to a 4-day calendar for the entire school year beginning in fall 2023.

“It was a good move for getting kids here more frequently…and also teacher retention,” Broughton said. “Attendance rate was way up for students and faculty, so that was a bonus right there.”

As Dickson school officials discussed the proposal this month, Mitchell told board members that there has been a shift to 4-day weeks within education and beyond.

“There are schools that are going 4-day model. A lot of your colleges don’t even offer Friday classes anymore,” Mitchell said. “Yes there are people that, even in their business practices, are going to a 4-day model.”

How would a 4-day school week work in Dickson?

State law requires public schools in Oklahoma have at least 1,080 hours of classroom instruction time per year with at least 165 school days. Individual school districts across Oklahoma develop independent school calendars each year that must adhere to state guidelines or request waivers from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Mitchell said proposals that include 4-day school weeks at Dickson fall within the state requirements and do no require waivers. Two proposed draft calendars forwarded to Carter Observer show mostly traditional calendars with 5-day school weeks for the fall semester and condensed weeks in the spring.

Both drafts show a school year between Aug. 8 and May 16, with slight changes made to the length of breaks. One draft proposal for the 2024-2025 school shows no Friday classes for seven weeks after spring break in March. The other draft shows no Monday classes for the entire spring semester.

Board member Dustin Hector said parents he spoke to about the proposal were critical of early dismissals and hoped a new calendar would omit them. “That day they didn’t feel was educational or purposeful to them,” he told fellow board members.

Mitchell said that details of either draft would have to be further examined before the drafts could be considered for a vote.

A benefit for teachers

Just in Carter County, two school systems already have some form of 4-day school weeks. The calendar for Fox Public Schools does not have any Monday classes all year long, while the school calendar in Wilson shows no Friday classes beginning in February each year.

Wilson Elementary School Principal Kendra Groves said their district calendar seems to have been popular with the community during her six years with the system.

“I think for us it’s been great for students and for teacher retention,” Groves said on Thursday. “They [students] feel some relief because they get an extra day away, and then for teachers it’s obviously helpful.”

Even though no classes are held on Fridays during most of the spring semester, Groves said the campus is still part of the community since sports and other events still occur. She said many teachers and staff members are still in the classroom on Fridays to catch up on tasks or prepare for the upcoming week.

“For myself personally, I can get things done on Friday that I normally would have done during the weekend. So I feel like I get a two-day weekend to really enjoy with my family,” said Groves.

Other wheels: busses, bell schedules, and meals

Board members on Monday were reminded that any changes to a class schedule could also impact daily bell schedules, bus schedules, and would all have to be considered in conjunction with schedules for vocational schools. All five members of the board were heavily involved in the discussion that also included site principals.

“Most calendars are going to fit somewhere in the calendar kind of like we have now. It also keeps us closer in tune with the career tech calendar,” Mitchell told board members.

Board president Bobby Black also mentioned transportation needs if Dickson campuses are closed but students still need to attend vocational schools. Mitchell agreed that Dickson school calendars should match up with Southern Tech calendar as much as possible but noted even current calendars fall short of those efforts.

Some families that rely on school meals five days per week also have to be considered. Mitchell said that Dickson schools already implement a backpack food program that sends students home with snacks and meals over the weekend to help fill some gaps in food security. Groves said that families in Wilson have also been using a similar food program through the school for several years.

One major difference between the school districts in Dickson, Wilson, Fox and Thackerville are size. According to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Dickson’s roughly 1,270 students this academic year is more students than at Wilson, Fox and Thackerville combined.

Mitchell said that student body size isn’t a particular issue with Dickson considering the shift, however, and noted some larger schools in the state also offer 4-day weeks.

How do parents feel about the proposals?

Several board members said they have spoken to parents about the proposed change. The feedback they shared this month was mixed but trended toward many willing to try something new in the second semester of the 2024-2025 school year.

“I didn’t get to talk to as many parents as I really intended to talk to…although I got more negative response over it than I did positive response over the 4-day calendar second semester next year,” said Black.

“I spoke to about 20 parents. I had one that was a ‘no’ and the other 19 were open to it. About six to eight of them said they would prefer a Friday to a Monday if we did the 4-days,” said board member Courtney Scruggs.

“Now with saying all that, a majority of them are upper elementary, middle school, high school parents. I didn’t speak to a lot of lower elementary parents,” she said.

Mitchell, a Dickson High School graduate, welcomes any community member or parent to contact his office about the proposed move. He hopes the board is able to approve a new schedule by their next regular meeting in March.

“The school is the community; the community is the school. And so the only way we can work through anything like this and make sure voices are heard are to have conversations,” said Mitchell.

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting and informative article. Mr. Smith has certainly researched this topic thoroughly. I appreciate him outlining it for parents and giving us their perspective. Again, thank you Mr. Smith, great job getting the word out there.

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