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Athens ISD Takes A Chance On 4-Day School Week

Athens ISD
Athens High School

In the Athens Independent School District, 75 miles southeast of Dallas, school began Monday. But this year, it's not the usual Monday to Friday schedule. The district is starting something new — a four-day school week for students and teachers.

Athens ISD spokesperson Toni Clay says the Athens school system needed to do something to stop good teachers from leaving. The rural district of 3,000 kids said they didn’t have enough money to compete with higher salaries in the Dallas/Fort Worth region. But adding a regular three-day weekend might work.

"Because, let’s be honest," Clay said. "Teachers right now, they're not under any mandate to work on their lesson plan or to come in over the weekend. That's not something that the district says they have to do. But by and far, most teachers do that."

Clay says a 4-day work week restores and guarantees the full weekend again for busy teachers. And although the plan is brand new, it seems to be working. She says nearly 70% of this year’s new Athens teachers have at least 4 years of experience. A year ago only 36% did. A few Texas districts have turned to 4-day weeks, after the state defined a school year by minutes of instruction instead of days.

In Athens ISD, with Fridays now off, teachers and students will work a little longer every day. Meanwhile, some parents — especially those who work outside the home — face new childcare headaches.

"There were parents who were absolutely delighted," said Clay. "And there were parents who said, 'Well, this means that I have to find a place for my child to be every Friday.'"

Clay says some area day cares are now offering Friday discounts. The Athens school district plans to watch the new schedule throughout the year and tweak it as necessary.

The school district also considers this move revenue-neutral. Clay says it won't cost any more money per year to operate a 4-day work week and won't save the district any money either.

Clay also says there is some research suggesting the shorter week improves both student attendance and graduation rates.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.