Proposed bill would make 5-day school weeks mandatory in Oklahoma
Inola Public Schools is one of about 100 school districts in Oklahoma doing something a little different this school year.
In August 2016, Inola adopted a four-day school week.
“For 23, or 22 years, prior to that, I’ve taught on a five-day week,” said Inola Middle School teacher Rodney Ferguson. “I didn’t know what to expect. In the very beginning, I was like, what time is it?"
Ferguson says it doesn’t matter how many days students are in school.
“When I close the door to my classroom, it’s my job to teach them,” said Ferguson.
Continuing budget cuts forced Inola Superintendent Kent Holbrook to make some tough changes.
“It was getting to be too much to handle,” said Holbrook.
He says the district saved about $150,000 just from switching to four-day school weeks, and those savings helped keep class sizes down and teachers employed.
“Teachers need to get a raise, but schools need operational money,” said Holbrook.
Holbrook says closing the schools for one extra day a week saved him costs on buses, utilities, cafeteria and janitorial work.
“If you have nothing left, it’s significant. For this district, $150,000 was four to five teachers,” said Holbrook.
In total, 218 schools in Oklahoma now have four-day school weeks. But a new bill may require them to switch back to the five-day school week.
Holbrook says he has a couple questions. The first: how are they going to pay for that?
“Isn’t that a local decision?” Holbrook said.
As for Ferguson, he says he and his middle school students have started to love the four-day week.
“We’re not cranking out widgets in a factory. You’re producing minds, kids, adults,” said Ferguson.
He says his class periods are about 10 minutes longer, but that gives time for his students to ask questions or go deeper on a topic.
If his classroom was filled with state lawmakers, he’d be asking them questions.
“I think I would pointedly ask them why they have money for things they deem important, but they don’t have money to give to education first?” said Ferguson.
He says lawmakers may require a bit more time in the classroom to be able to answer his question correctly.
According to Holbrook, attendance overall has increased this school year in Inola. He says he’s waiting to see if that has an effect on test scores, but he will have to wait to find out until the end of the year.