A statewide teacher shortage has more Montana schools going to four-day school weeks in hopes of recruiting and retaining teachers.
“We have a pretty high turnover rate,” says Dan Grabowska, the superintendent of Park City Schools. In the eight years he has been on the job, he says it has become increasingly difficult to find teachers.
“We’ve had situations where people have come in and taken the job we think they are going to be OK and they are gone within a week of school starting. So there’s a lot of scrambling. And it’s not just us. It’s everywhere in the state,” he says.
Schools in rural districts account for about two-thirds of Montana’s teacher vacancies.
Last summer, the number of applicants for several openings in Park City schools could almost be counted on one hand. There are probably several factors for that, but the obvious one is money.
“Salary is tough one for us because our tax base isn’t very high, so it is hard to do that. So, we looked at what other schools are doing, and the four-day week was one of the key areas that other districts were looking at,” says Grabowska.
Next school year, Park City will join 175 schools other across the state that have gone to four-day school weeks.
Zoe Holscher teaches high school math and likes the idea.
“I’m pretty excited for it. We will see how it goes. I’m a little bit nervous, but overall, I’m excited to have that extra day off to plan and kind of rejuvenate after a long week,” she says.
It will mean longer school days for students in the classroom from 8 until just after 4, but they’ll get a three-day weekend every weekend.
“I think trying to squeeze a whole day into 10 or 15 minutes during the class period is going to be a bit challenging. Some kids are worried about the long school days but I think once they get used to it they will be fine. It’s just that initial change,” says Holscher.
The superintendent says the district has worked hard to support its teachers and keep them and is already seeing some encouraging signs that the four-day school week will bring in more applications for openings.
“This year, it has already bumped up quite a bit with the four-day week on my job ads. I’ve got a nice pool to select from, so that’s been a plus,” he says.
Grabowska says he’d like to see more done on the state level to make Montana’s teacher salaries more competitive with other states.
Grabowska admits not everyone was happy when they decided to make the move.
The four-day week will mean new childcare challenges for some parents, but the superintendent thinks it is the best way for now to attract new teachers.
“Let’s try it for a year and see what happens. We need our teachers to stay so let’s see what happens,” he says.