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Proposed move to 4-day week in School District 27J is controversial

In a last-ditch attempt to stretch a fraying budget, School District 27J could become the first metro-area district to move to a four-day school week. The controversial proposal is fundamental in scope but deeply personal in consequence to local families.

It was standing-room only at School District 27J’s training facility in downtown Brighton on Jan. 31. Vehicles filled the parking lot and lined the street, and families filled the chairs inside. District staff and faculty members leaned against the walls, eyes scanning the crowd. The energy level was high, the audience by turns antagonistic, concerned, curious and frustrated.

The gathering was the first of three community meetings hosted by 27J to discuss the proposed change to the school week. The district will decide by March 23; if approved, the four-day schedule would take effect in fall. The change was proposed after voters rejected a $12 million mill levy override in November. The money garnered would have been used to compensate teachers, upgrade books and materials, and expand staffing.

While the district dug into savings to replace 20-year-old textbooks and outdated technology, it didn’t have enough money to boost teachers’ pay or update curriculum. Superintendent Chris Fiedler said he thought of shifting school hours while he was crunching budget numbers and wondering, “How in the world are we going to cut 20 percent of what we do?”

That’s when he saw it — five days in a school week, each day worth 20 percent.

This is not the state’s first disruption of the traditional five-day school week. Nearly 100 districts across Colorado — more than half the districts in the state — have schools where students attend fewer than 160 days a year. That number has grown from 39 districts in the 2000-01 school year. But most of them — Manzanola 3J, Creede School District and Akron R-1, for example — are in rural areas. Fiedler said the closest similar district to 27J is Pueblo County 70, which transitioned to a four-day week in 2010.

Fiedler said his first concern when considering the change was, How will kids make up the lost time from skipping a day each week? As proposed, the district would drop early releases, late starts and the occasional Wednesdays off, as well as add time to school days.

“We’ve done the math multiple times; we have the same number of contact hours in this (proposed) schedule as we have in the existing calendar,” Fiedler said.

Students would not attend school on Mondays, as most federal holidays fall on Mondays and high school sports teams traditionally compete on Fridays.

Teachers would work 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays (and some Monday hours each month, to be determined). Middle and high school students would attend classes 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and elementary students from 7:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The district’s charter schools would choose whether to hold classes four or five days a week.

The four-day instructional week would provide additional planning time for teachers, said Fiedler and chief academic officer Will Pierce. “We’re excited about the opportunities to engineer times so the teachers can be fully developed, can be fully planned and prepared for kids,” Pierce said.

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