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'It's frustrating:' Wagoner school leaders defend four-day school week under scrutiny at state Capitol

'It's frustrating:' Wagoner school leaders defend four-day school week under scrutiny at state Capitol

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The Oklahoma Senate recently came out with its priorities for the 2019 legislative session.

Rumors have been circulating on social media that schools that adopted the four-day week would have to reverse the path and go back to five school days a week.

It is a hot-button topic for school administrators and parents to deal with. So far, the four-day week has seemed to work for Wagoner Public Schools and, in the process, save money while not shirking student performance.

Wagoner Public Schools Superintendent Randy Harris issued a 2½ page response meant for “Wagoner Patrons” but agreed to share his thoughts with the Wagoner County American Tribune.

“It’s frustrating to hear senators complain about four-day weeks while our schools have been starved of money and teachers’ salaries have lagged behind every state in the union over the past decade,” Harris said.

Harris’ detailed statement made his points from facts as it pertains to the Wagoner Public Schools system.

“They did leave some room for 'exceptions' if schools could show the State Department of Education they are saving money and not hurting students academically.

“The senators gave their justification ... as 'it’s bad for business in Oklahoma and it hurts kids.’”

Senate Republicans went on to say that Oklahoma is hurt on the national business stage; they claim they can’t attract businesses to the state. They went on to argue that the workforce is undercut by students going to school only four days a week.

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Jeremy Holmes, Wagoner’s middle school principal, noted his view from the front lines of the four-day policy.

“This is our third year for a four-day week,” Holmes said. “From what I’ve seen in the two previous years, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

“Lower discipline (problems), lower absences and above state averages in state testing are all things that are positive.”

Holmes summed it up this way: “We will continue to study the data we collect to determine the effectiveness of a four-day school week.”

Harris’ statement made a point about business and education.

“Before last year’s tax increase and revenue raising measures, Oklahoma (depending on the source) ranked in the bottom two or three in the nation for school funding and teacher pay.

“Let that sink in — we rank near last in funding education and teacher pay, but the four-day week is bad for business?”

Harris went on to talk about the teacher commitment to doing more when school is in session. And the students get to work an extra day with Mondays off.

The students that are too young to work have places like Brighter Futures in the old Lincoln school building (free of charge) to go to for nourishment or enrichment on those Mondays, too.

“Not once has any business owner sat in my office and asked, ‘What’s up with this four-day week?’” the superintendent noted.

Harris offered concrete details on how the shorter school week has improved teaching and teachers in the district.

“The research is clear; a school calendar doesn’t automatically promote student success. Over the past three years, we have made dramatic changes to make our schools better. We have added many security measures in all of our schools, invested in one-on-one technology for all middle school and high school students, purchased new curriculum, built a new STEM lab at our high school, established a mentoring program for all new teachers ... and the list could go on and on.”

Harris said it's his opinion that the state is getting back at teachers for walking out last April. One bill filed makes it unlawful for teachers to leave work for a walkout or making a group deposit of $50,000 if they want to rally at the Capitol.

Harris also pointed to the academic success of the 2018 graduating class. The 155 graduates received $1.7 million dollars of scholarship money.

“We will collect data and submit the necessary reports to the State Department of Education to try and remain a four-day week,” Harris said.

Time will tell for the fate of Wagoner’s four-day week and others in Oklahoma that are doing the same.

Editor's note: This story was edited after publication to include a list of area districts on the four-day schedule. Contact with questions or concerns.

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