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Education Dept. approves MACCRAY's four-day week

CLARA CITY -- The four-day school week in the MACCRAY School District has been approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The state approval, received Tuesday, was one of the final steps in preparing to switch to a four-day schedule this fall. The MACCRAY School Board voted for the four-day week in May.

The district is ready to make the change when school opens on Sept. 2, Superintendent Greg Schmidt said Tuesday afternoon. There are a few details left to settle before the parent information booklet is sent out later this summer.

School will be in session from Tuesday through Friday most weeks next year, and the school day will be longer. Over the course of the year, students will be in school a few minutes longer than they were before.

The district lost its secondary science teacher in June and still needs to hire a new one. After that's done, the schedules at the high school will be finished, he said.

Another issue is the shared elementary instrumental music teacher's schedule. For budget reasons, the district laid off Vickie Schultz and then rehired her for a half-time position. Yellow Medicine East was also looking for a part-time music teacher, so MACCRAY rehired Schultz at a full-time salary. YME will reimburse the district for half of her time.

"We need to iron out the schedule," Schmidt said.

The sharing of a teacher is a new situation for the district, but something "that makes a lot of sense in some situations," he said.

Schmidt said he hopes the change will be good for students in the long run.

The state required the district to review the change after one year. That was the only condition attached to the approval. Education Commissioner Alice Seagren wrote a note, wishing the district luck with the change and asking Schmidt to keep her posted on how it was going.

School officials had already planned to do the evaluation, Schmidt said. They plan to survey parents and staff during the year. The Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative has offered to pay for an outside evaluator, and the district will take advantage of that, too.

Schmidt said he had expected some negative reaction to such a major change, but he hasn't seen that happen. A few people who were opposed it came to board meetings, but "they asked good and appropriate questions" without making it personal.

He hasn't heard from parents or day care providers, either, he said. Many day care providers are paid by the week, so the main impact may be in a shift of workload for providers and a change in schedule for parents, he added.

People in other areas are interested in the idea, Schmidt said. When he started hearing from school officials and reporters in different parts of the country, he started keeping a list. He has heard from Las Vegas city officials; reporters from Ohio and Kansas City; and schools in Albuquerque. A reporter who wrote for the Kyoto News in Japan also contacted him. National news programs also featured MACCRAY's story.

"I never thought it would be that big a deal," Schmidt said.

In fact, it's an idea that districts around the country have considered as gas prices have gone up. A few Minnesota districts tried it in the past, though MACCRAY is the only one at this time. Others have discussed it since the MACCRAY board voted in May. Several districts in South Dakota, Kentucky and other southern states, mostly in rural areas, have had four-day weeks for several years.