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Students, Parents, Teachers Adjust To Denver-Area School District's Four-Day Week

Stephanie Daniel
Rebecca Canges works from home on Mondays so she can watch her two sons, 10-year-old Cooper and five-year-old Katin, after School District 27J switched to a four-day school week.

Five-year-old Katin Canges held up a small plastic ball with a letter written on it.

"What's the K for?" asked his mother Rebecca Canges.

"Katin," he replied with a laugh.

On a Monday in late October, Katin and his 10-year-old brother Cooper were not in school. They were at home with their mother.

The family lives in Commerce City where the boys attend Turnberry Elementary in School District 27J. 27J switched to a four-day week this academic year. Schools are closed on Mondays.

"Where are my kids going to go?" Canges remembered thinking when the decision was first announced. "What am I going to do on that day off?"

Canges is a professor of special education and chair of the Education, Early Childhood and Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Department at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

When the district announced the move to a four-day week in early spring, she said some friends either moved out of the district or entered their kids into a charter school lottery. Charters could choose to whether to shorten the week.

Luckily for Canges, she is able to work from home on Mondays.

"I'm already spending $300 a month for my kid to go to all-day (kindergarten)," she said. "I just couldn't handle the idea of spending more money for daycare when I didn't have to spend that money last year."

27J offers childcare for elementary-aged students on Mondays for $30 a day. A district official said about 360 children - 5 percent of those eligible - are enrolled in the program.

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Rebekah and Warren Williams take their seven-year-old son Cade to childcare at his elementary school on Mondays while daughter Elsie goes to daycare.

One of those kids is first-grader Cade Williams.

"I started to initially panic because we work five days," said Rebekah Williams, his mom.

Cade's elementary school in Brighton is one of the Monday childcare sites. He already attended before and after-school care for $20 a day, so Williams said adding another day is manageable.

"It's $10 more for all darn day. So, it actually ended up being totally financially fine," she said. "That was alleviated and that's been very, very convenient."

'New and creative ways to attract and retain teachers'

Colorado has 178 school districts, along with the Charter School Institute. Of those, 58 percent have one, some or all schools on a four-day week. These districts are typically small, rural or both.

"It's probably important to know some school districts have been on four-day week since their inception and so that's just been the culture of their community," said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project.

Credit Courtesy Colorado School Finance Project
Courtesy Colorado School Finance Project
58 percent of school districts in Colorado have a school, some schools or all schools on a four-day week.

Since the 2008 recession, Rainey said public education has lost about $7.2 billion in funding.

"Districts are trying to figure out ways to cut costs or to retain teachers or be able to survive, basically," she said.

In 2017 voters in Adams County rejected a mill levy override that would have created additional funding for 27J and the district's nearly 18,000 students. It was the sixth time a measure like that failed.

This year 27J became the first big school district and first in the Denver metro area to change to a four-day school week.

"We had to think out of the box," said Tracy Rudnick, public information officer and head of the communications department for 27J schools.

27J is one of the lowest funded districts in the Denver metro area. But Rudnick said money was not the main reason for the change to a four-day week.

"We were looking at new and creative ways to attract and retain teachers," said Rudnick.

Credit Courtesy 27J Schools
Courtesy 27J Schools
A group of students at Southeast Elementary School in School District 27J.

Traditionally 27J has been a stepping stone for educators. They start their career there, then move onto another district that pays more.

Rudnick said the move to a shorter work week has already boosted recruitment. A couple months after the change was announced, the district hosted a career fair and 500 teachers - experienced and prospective - attended.

That was more than double from the year before.

The district was able to fill more positions and hire seasoned educators, a rarity for them.

"It was a nice balance to hire new teachers and professionals that have been in the system for many years and bring that experience to the district," said Rudnick. "So, that's valuable to us as well."

The district is happy with the new schedule, according to Rudnick and plans to reevaluate the program in three years.

Adjust to a shorter week

Dave Devincenzi, father of two middle schoolers and a fifth-grader, teaches second grade at Turnberry Elementary. They all have Mondays off.

"Mondays we basically just spend it as quality family time and doing catch up chores around the house we would normally do on Sunday," he said.

"Teachers will still pick (a) higher salary."

To make up the day off, one Monday a month Devincenzi goes into work for four hours of professional development. An extra 40 minutes of class time was also added to each of the four school days.

Devincenzi, in his eleventh year with the district, said the longer school day has been an adjustment.

"You're trying to mentally plan and do curriculum for five days," he said. "All the curriculum plans are still on a five-day rotation and we only have four. "

Educators have traditionally worked five days, so Devincenzi's not sure the district's goal to keep teachers will work.

Ultimately, it comes down to money.

"Teachers will still pick (a) higher salary," he said.

Give it a year

Overall, the shortened school week is working out well for Rebecca Canges and her family. Her oldest son, Cooper, is on a competitive hockey team with games out-of-state, so Mondays off makes travelling easier. She also doesn't have to take him out of school for dentist appointments.

"We were trying to schedule his next orthodontist and all of the Mondays were filled," said Canges. "So apparently, every other parent is thinking the same thing."

Canges loves the district but said she's not sure how a four-day week will affect her kids' education in the long-term. As a professor of education, she's also skeptical of the district's official stance that the change was made mainly to recruit and retain teachers.

"I told my husband, 'Let's give this a year and see if there's positives or negatives or how we feel about it,'" said Canges. "Then we'll talk about if we need to move."

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