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MACCRAY to appeal state decision to phase out four-day week

CLARA CITY — MACCRAY is planning to appeal a decision by the Commissioner of Education to phase out its class scheduled based on a four-day week.

The Department of Education approved a four-day week in the MACCRAY School District for 2014-15 “as a transition year back to a traditional five-day calendar beginning in 2015-16,’’ Dr. Brenda Cassellius, commissioner of education, stated in a letter to the district dated May 6.

“Very disappointed,’’ said MACCRAY’s interim Superintendent Loren Hacker of reaction to the decision.

The district had applied for a three-year extension of the four-day schedule.

MACCRAY was one of the first districts in the state to institute a four-day schedule beginning in the 2008-09 school year.

In west central Minnesota, the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa districts also have four-day schedules.

ACGC is currently approved for a four-day schedule through July 1, 2016, and would need approval to continue the schedule beyond that date.

BBE has been approved for a transitional year in 2014-15 and has been directed to return to a five-day week by 2015-16.

Four-day school schedules were initially proposed for its economic savings.

The four-day week has produced the savings as projected, but it’s the other advantages that led the MACCRAY district to apply for approval of another three years of the schedule, according to Hacker.

 A four-day week allows the district to schedule times for extra-curricular activities such as speech and play practice on Mondays, when classes are not held. Many community organizations take advantage of the schedule to hold their activities for children — such as 4-H — on Mondays.

And, parents often schedule their children for everything from piano lessons to medical appointments on Mondays.

The flexibility of a four-day week has also benefited the district in other ways, including the ability to make up snow days.

The four-day week has proven very popular with students and educators, and especially, the community at large, Hacker said.

He is not sure if the district was able to convey the strength of the community support to the Department of Education. “It’s one piece that is hard to write to in an application,’’ he said.

In rejecting the application for a three-year continuance, the commissioner stated: “Unfortunately, it has not seen an adequate academic gain under the four-day week model to lead me to approve more than a transition year.’’

The superintendent said the district feels that the four-day week has benefited its academic programs. The district’s West Elementary is a Reward School — the state’s designation for schools performing in the top 25 percent — and its East Elementary is very close in terms of academic achievement, he noted.

He said the district believes that the commissioner and Gov. Mark Dayton prefer a five-day week, but he also feels the district can make a strong case in appealing the decision. He said MACCRAY is among 11 districts in the state with four-day weeks, and he hopes the other districts will likewise support the appeal.

Students spend as many and sometimes more total hours in class with a four-day schedule during the course of a school year by putting in longer days.

While it makes its appeal, MACCRAY will also need to begin negotiations with staff to revise contract language currently based on the four-day schedule. 

Tom Cherveny

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

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