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Students and faculty at MACCRAY adjusting to new four-day schedule

CLARA CITY -- It appears to be unanimous -- the kids at MACCRAY High School really like having Mondays off.

The teachers don't seem to mind it either. Formal evaluation reports will come later, but so far, things seem to be going smoothly in the MACCRAY School District since a new four-day schedule began this fall.

Saving electives was important to the senior high students in Bob Schultz's study hall.

"If it meant saving band, I was going to do it," said senior Lindsey Hompe. The move saved "all our college classes," said senior Stephanie Tulibaski.

Senior Jordan Smith said he was a little nervous about how the longer day would work out. "It's different getting home later in the day," he said, but he's getting used to it.

"The school day doesn't seem any longer," said Schultz, a math and computer science teacher. He loves what he does, he added, so once he gets to work, the day seems to fly by. He does notice that his evenings seem shorter, though.

Schultz, who lives in Montevideo, said, "I can understand how the district is saving money" by transporting students one day less a week. "If we hadn't gone to four days a week, we would be offering less electives."

School officials called other districts with a four-day week and tried to be prepared for the issues that might arise.

Sixteen other states have some districts with four-day schedules. Other Minnesota schools have had four-day weeks in the past, but MACCRAY is the only district in the state that currently has the schedule.

It's gone even better than expected, High School Principal Gary Sims said last week.

"The only problem I've really heard is they get a little hungry in the afternoon," he said. "We're going to address that," with the help of the student council.

"Considering the situation we're in, it's the best thing we could have done," Sims said.

The district has made large budget cuts in the past two years and was faced with declining enrollment and rising expenses for heat and transportation. The School Board voted last spring to try the four-day week.

Superintendent Greg Schmidt said the district stands to save money on busing, heating and electricity by closing one day a week. He also expects a decreased need for substitute teachers, since the staff will be able to take care of personal appointments on their days off.

Student attendance is expected to improve, because students can take care of appointments on Mondays.

There's still some work to do on scheduling after-school activities, Schmidt said, but those issues are being ironed out as they come up.

Elementary Principal Doug Runia said he had been concerned about the longer school day for younger children, but it hasn't been an issue so far.

Breakfast and lunch times are now a little later in the day, and brain-boosting physical activities have been added to the schedule. "We do a lot of that in the afternoon," Runia said. "It helps keep the energy up."

Afternoon hunger isn't a problem at the elementary schools because the children already had snack breaks scheduled in their day. Classes like music and physical education are spread throughout the day to give children a chance to get up and move around.

Day care for younger children was an issue during public meetings last spring, but "people must have made arrangements," Runia said. He hasn't heard from anyone with a day care problem.

"Everybody, from the kids, parents and the community, has been good about saying we need to give this a good effort," he said.

A group of junior high students visiting in the hall after lunch said they like the new schedule. One girl said she thought the Mondays off would give them more time to work on projects.

When they have no projects, though, "Mondays are great," several students said.

Older students see some other advantages, too. Abraham Winter, a senior from Clara City, said he thought it might be easier to get a job since he would be able to work a full day on Mondays.

Special education teacher Elyse Hagen said, "I actually like it a lot."

She had been concerned that her students would have trouble focusing for an entire class period, but she's taken care of that by having some mini breaks.

"My students, I think, are actually learning a lot more," she said. She has had no concern about them retaining what they learn over a long weekend, she said.

Like Schultz, Hagen said she hardly notices that the school day is longer, but she notices that her evenings seem quite a bit shorter. That's offset by the Mondays off, though, she said.

Math teacher Daryl Anderson said he anticipates that his college algebra students will have more work to do outside class, "more like an actual college class."