Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Wahkiakum school district adopts a four day week

The Wahkiakum School District received a stamp of approval for the Economy and Efficiency Waiver (WAC 180-18-030) by Washington OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) on June 28th. The Board of Education submitted the application following the June meeting and have been eagerly awaiting the announcement. Washington raised the waiver allotment from 10 to 30 this year. Wahkiakum is one of several districts that applied for the waiver.

According to OSPI’s website, “part of the basic education requirements in Washington state must make a minimum of 180 school days available to students each year.” The waiver allows for flexibility in how districts meet the required instructional hours. Washington state requires that all schools provide at least 1027 average instructional hours in grades 1-12. Wahkiakum school district students meet this average with the waiver.

The waiver meets this requirement set forth by the state. House Bill RCW 28A.150.205 identifies instructional hours “as hours students are provided with the direction of school district staff. In addition, students are provided the opportunity to engage in educational activities that are part of regular instructional programs concurrently. A district may include alternative ways to provide effective educational programs for students.” (RCW 28A.300.750)

This comes at a time when the district is changing leadership with the retirement of the current Superintendent Brent Freeman and new Interim Superintendent Ric Palmer taking the helm. Palmer is experienced in implementing and managing the four-day week structure he implemented in 2009 in Bickleton, WA. When asked his opinion of the four-day model, Palmer said “It’s good for kids and makes sense.” Additionally, Palmer noted from his own experience that there will be an adjustment period to routines and schedules, obviously, but stakeholder and school data shows overwhelming support for the shift. “The model has credibility and there’s evidence of its effectiveness.”

Palmer noted how the district has worked hard to keep the district whole by providing additional extended opportunities for hourly employees to maintain their hours by serving in additional capacities. “For example, the bus drivers have an opportunity to serve as paraprofessionals or maintenance staff during the day if they so choose to keep current hours,” Superintendent Freeman reflected on how the possibilities the district now has as opportunities to fill past needs. “In Bickleton, our bus drivers ended up being paraprofessionals to supplement and keep jobs whole, and it worked,” added Palmer. As far as childcare, there is an opportunity for the teenage population to offer childcare services and most importantly, more family time is evident in the four-day model. Bottom line, Superintendent Palmer shares that, “kids are rejuvenated to be back at school and have more enriching days on a four-day model.”

More family time was a benefit identified by parents, staff and students in the spring data collection cycle when the district first began exploring the options of a four-day week. Superintendent Freeman gives credit to High School Principal Stephanie Leitz and Middle/Elementary Principal Nikki Reese for their initial hard work on involving all aspects of the community in the decision. Not only did they work closely with staff and students to balance the pros and cons, but they reached out to community stakeholders and offered a parent input session to hear concerns prior to presenting the idea to the school board.

The upward trend of the four-day school week is a popular option for rural school districts and can be found across the country. The new norm in school structures attempts to align with the work force systems across the globe and is more of an efficiency gain than an economic gain. “Teachers work the same number of hours, students attend the same amount of school, the structure of it is different,” said Palmer. Palmer shared how his Bickleton staff was at first reluctant but found that instruction was deeper and went further in the year.

The waiver approval lasts three years and OSPI uses assessment data to validate the continuation of the waiver. Data collected by Principals Leitz and Reese showed that absenteeism has consistently been highest on Fridays. This is expected to decrease for both staff and students. The struggle to cover those teachers with substitutes on Friday will also dissipate. The benefits continue by creating more meaningful professional development time for staff that is not limited to an hour on Thursday mornings and it creates an opportunity for staff to work with students if needed. Principal Reese expressed her excitement that there is now time to meet standard instruction more intentionally in SEL (Social Emotional Learning), Science and Social Studies. “These are standards set by the State which we do not have enough time for in our former schedule model.” Both middle and high schools have adjusted their Mule Success times to enhance student achievement and accountability as well as to create a more effective education routine. Principal Leitz is also eager to see a model that allows for a seven-period day with more intentional instruction and opportunities for education enrichment at the high school to prepare students for beyond high school. She noted that there will be challenges but “we grow through what we go through.”

The Board of Education approved the four day week Memorandum of Understanding at a special session on Tuesday, July 2. Board President Shawn Merz is excited about the opportunity the new structure will provide staff and students. “There is a great opportunity to make professional development time more meaningful and develop deeper learning for students by using school assets more effectively. This is an exciting change for the community. Find the most recent calendar approved on the school website. Students will begin school on August 27. This story will continue with additional updates as more information becomes available.


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