The Florence Unified School District is considering switching to a four-day school week next fall to get a leg up in attracting qualified teachers to the fast-growing San Tan area on the southeast fringe of the Valley.
Florence Superintendent Rick Sagar said research shows operating costs are reduced and student achievement improves in schools that are in session four longer days each week, giving students a three-day weekend in exchange.
Those three-day weekends would also make it easier to attract teachers to the district, and word that it’s even under consideration has already traveled fast, he said.
“I can’t tell you how many experienced teachers from all over the Valley have called personally after they heard that this was a possibility, and said they would want to come down here,” he said.
The 5,082-student district is in pretty good shape when it comes to finding teachers for its kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, he said, but struggles to hire people in more specialized fields, including math, science, special education, music and art.
“I’ve been looking for a physics teacher for two years,” he said.
Florence district governing board member Floyd Thomas said two public hearings have been scheduled, at Copper Basin school at 28682 N. Main St. in Queen Creek on Jan. 31 and Florence High School on Feb. 1, both starting at 6 p.m. A formal board vote on the issue hasn’t been scheduled, he said.
Florence schools, which are on a year-round schedule, would continue to have sports and some other activities on Fridays.
The district is conducting an online poll through its Web site, where Sagar said the positive responses were running at 68 percent at the end of last week, with 55 percent of the feedback coming from school staff, versus 45 percent from parents.
Keri Stout, president of the Skyline K-8 School PTSO, said the four-day week would be better for her family because her husband gets every other Friday off. But opinion within the PTSO has run more toward the negative.
“We’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to handle the day care and how our kids are going to survive the longer school day,” she said.
The organization has not yet taken an official position, she said.
Skyline sixth-grade teacher Chris Cafaro is enthusiastic about the prospect of having Fridays free to spend with his kids, including a daughter who also attends Skyline, but “in families with two working parents, I can see where they would be worried.”
Cafaro and Stout both said kids generally love the idea.
Florence is a former smalltown district that is now trying to keep pace with growth in the San Tan area south of Queen Creek. Sagar said it has about 1,400 more students now than a year ago. As a result, some school boundaries are being changed yearly, something Stout said is a bigger issue for most parents than a four-day week.
Sagar said both the Valley of the Sun YMCA and Florence have agreed to provide affordable day-care options for parents who would need them on Fridays.
Libby Corral, executive director of the Copper Basin YMCA, said her organization provides before- and afterschool care at five campuses, including Skyline, Copper Basin and Walker Butte K-8 schools in the Florence district, and would be able to handle an extra load on Fridays, if necessary.
“I have confidence we will be able to meet any of the needs they have. We have the staff available,” she said.
John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said four rural districts currently are on a four-day week schedule in the state, the largest being the Window Rock Unified School District on the Navajo Nation.
He was teaching in Window Rock in the mid-1990s when the district made the switch to decrease absenteeism and allow student-athletes more time to travel to games at distant schools,
He said the experience was “very positive” because the district was able to accomplish those goals. “If they want this to succeed, what’s really important is they need to identify the reasons why they want to do this, and emphasize how
this will help you reach that goal.”
Current and proposed school hours
WALKER BUTTE AND COPPER BASIN K-8 SCHOOLS: Now: 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Proposed: 7:25 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.
SKYLINE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL Now: 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Proposed: 8:25 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
FLORENCE HIGH SCHOOL Now: 7:55 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.
Proposed: 7:30 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.