With a successful board vote Monday night, Wolf Point School District will be one of the biggest districts in Montana to move to a four-day school week, which it will do beginning this fall.
In a 4-1 vote, the board will lengthen its school day by 40 minutes and shut down two of its three schools on Friday.
The class B district has 850 students.
“This is the third time we’ve looked at it,” said Sonny Douglas, the board’s vice chairman.
The option of reducing school days first came up as an idea for cutting costs during budget talks last fall. As administrators looked at the option and did research, the idea gained more popularity, Douglas said.
Wolf Point hopes it will save between $75,000 and $115,000 a year.
As of last year, there were 17 school districts in Montana that operated on a four-day school week, including Custer School in Custer.
A survey performed by the Montana Office of Public Instruction found that all of the 17 districts that have switched to the four-day school week saw cost savings in their operational and transportation budgets and improvements in student attendance.
However, OPI’s survey noted, “The districts did experience cost savings but not as much as they had anticipated.”
Also, the survey found that “there was relatively no change in academic performance of the students in changing to a four-day school week.”
But benefits were seen in other areas. According to the survey, 14 of the 17 districts reported an improvement to teacher and student morale, 10 saw improvements to teacher and staff recruitment and eight reported fewer instructional interruptions.
The information was convincing enough for the Wolf Point board.
“It just works out,” Douglas said.
Wolf Point would use its extra day for teacher development and training — activities that used to be held on half-days or off days for the students.
“One of the major community concerns (was) day care,” said Joe Paine, the high school’s principal.
The district is planning to keep one school open on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon for students. The district would call it Enrichment Friday and between 12 and 15 staff members would be there for the students.
The district is working out new contracts with its employee unions to reflect the changes, he said.
Kim Williams, principal of the district’s middle school, sees the move as a logical step for Wolf Point.
“I feel our district has always been a progressive district,” she said.