Parents request school district explore alternative scheduling

A group of parents approached the Big Horn County School District No. 3 Board of Trustees at this month’s meeting to request the board explore the possibility of investigating the fiscal and academic impact of adopting a four-day, alternative schedule.

Spearheaded by Darcie Wisehart, the parents did not ask the Board to adopt an alternative schedule outright but encouraged them to consider exploring the possibility of transitioning to a four-day-a-week calendar.

“We would like to see what would benefit our district both educationally and financially,” she said. “These signatures are from people who are interested in supporting the idea of exploring options — they’re not saying that this is what’s best for our district or supporting it any way, they’re simply supporting an exploration.”

During the 2014—15 school year, 40 schools in 12 different districts operated on a alternative four-day schedule. While some districts adopted the alternative schedule to accommodate the demands of farming season, others made the shift due to financial benefits or curriculum changes.

BHCSD3 currently operates under a modified five-day schedule; class is in session from 8:00 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. for elementary, and until 3:40 p.m. for middle and high school. Friday is an early release day district-wide; elementary instruction ends at 1:30 p.m. while middle and high school instruction ends at 1:48 p.m.

Switching to a four-day schedule would extended the normal school hours Monday through Thursday; students would be expected to stay longer than on a normal schedule.
In order to minimize disruption during the shortened academic schedule, student events — namely sports, field trips and other clubs or extracurriculars — would be held Thursday nights, Fridays and Saturdays.

The district is currently weighing response to the idea through an online survey distributed through their website. According to Superintendent Barry Bryant, roughly 80 percent of staff — both credentialed and classified — oppose transitioning to a four-day-a-week calendar.

While Wisehart acknowledged the effectiveness of surveys as a means to gather input, she believed the wording to be biased or misleading.

“Surveys are great — they’re necessary, especially when you’re looking at making a big change like this,” she said “They’re best when you provide unbiased [statements] and effective when they’re given to adults, parents, stakeholders and community members.”

Bryant responded to Wisehart’s allegation of bias among the questionnaire, saying that it was not his intention to mislead the respondents.

“The intent was not to try and sway somebody one way or another, but to actually put some talking points out there that we need to consider,” he said.

Board Chair Eddie Johnson thanked Wisehart for delivering the parent group’s remarks. While both Johnson and Wisehart agreed that more time should be taken to research the proposal, Johnson expressed concerns regarding the potential disruption to the currently established curriculum.

“It’s not an overnight process,” he said, adding that it takes two or three years for the entire process to play out. “There’s also an enormous amount of work put into developing and coordinating [an alternative schedule] — we’re not even close to even approaching that yet.”

Bryant echoed Johnson’s concerns regarding the timing and impact. According to him, the District has already invested in developing a five-day curriculum.

“We spent about $200,000 working on our curriculum, assessments and sequencing for a five-day school week,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for about two years — not that it can’t be undone, but there’s more to it than just saying that [the District] will do a four-day week.”

Should the district move to a four-day week, Bryant anticipates some programs will be impacted and will have to be adjusted.

“What are we trying to solve by going to a 4-day week,” he asked. “We send students to Basin for agriculture classes and they send students over here for music — this arrangement works well and the current early release Fridays provide a similar schedule to four-day school week.”

This Big Horn County School District 3 Board of Trustees will meet during their next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m.