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Four-day week quietly endorsed at MACCRAY

CLARA CITY -- A telling silence greeted Superintendent of Schools Greg Schmidt and school board member Tim Smith on Thursday evening in Clara City.

No one from the public came to register an opinion on the four-day school week the MACCRAY School District has implemented for nearly three years running.

The district will be seeking to continue the practice for the next three years, but must obtain approval from the Minnesota Department of Education to do so. Part of the requirement is to hold public hearings on it, said Schmidt. Thursday's was the first.

The silence didn't surprise Smith, an 18-year veteran of the MACCRAY School Board.

"I don't hear a lot,'' said Smith. He said he knows there are people who don't like the four-day schedule, but for the most part it appears that people accept or support it.

It was implemented to save the district money and, consequently, spare cuts to staff and educational programming.

To that end, it's worked, Schmidt said. The district calculated a $143,000 savings in the first year, and comparable results in the second. As fuel costs rise this year, even larger savings could result.

He cautioned that a four-day week is not a panacea for the budget challenges that rural school districts face. MACCRAY has made its share of cuts in the last few years. Voter support in 2009 for an increase in the operating levy spared the district from more severe cutting, he said.

Most important, the four-day schedule does not seem to have adversely affected educational opportunities or performance. The district is keeping a careful watch on test scores and other benchmarks of academic performance, and things are looking good.

It was one of the few area districts to meet all of the federal government's Adequate Yearly Progress requirements last year, Schmidt said.

The four-day schedule has its challenges.

Parents point out that it definitely "shortens'' the evening at home, Smith said. The longer days can tire some students, particularly young elementary students.

The district placed a 6:30 p.m. limit to the time that students can be kept for sports practices after school hours. Based on the success of the MACCRAY Wolverines sports teams in the last three years, it doesn't seem to have caused any harm, the two said.

Parents and staff still have plenty of opportunities to weigh in on the four-day schedule. The district is placing a survey on its website for parents and staff, and has paper copies of it available in the MACCRAY school buildings for those who do not have Internet access. The superintendent will also be hosting meetings at 7 p.m. Monday at the elementary school in Raymond and Wednesday at the elementary school in Maynard.

The school board made known its feelings on the four-day week at its last regular meeting. It approved next year's calendar based on a four-day week.

"It doesn't mean it's right for everybody,'' said Schmidt in discussing the pros and cons of the four-day week. "For us, it works well,'' he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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