Pekin Pumps Brakes on Four-Day Week

Casey Jarmes
The News-Review

PACKWOOD – During the March 11 meeting of the Pekin School Board, the board voted against switching to a four-day school week in the 2024/2025 school year, although several board members suggested revisiting the idea next year.

The meeting was preceded by a public hearing, during which several parents and staff members raised concerns about the four-day week. One parent stated that Pekin shouldn’t necessarily throw away the idea of the shorter week, but that she was worried Pekin was rushing into it; she stated that, because surveys had not given a sweeping, definite yes, the board should err on the side of caution and wait another year. Another parent stated Pekin was an island that struggled with getting and keeping teachers; she stated that, although she was worried about the four-day week, the school had to get teachers to stay.

One parent stated that school days are already taxing for her young child and would get worse with the longer school days a four-day week would bring. She also stated that she worries about her child spending more time in daycare. She stated that moving sports practices later in the day would not be viable for her husband, a coach at Pekin, and that they likely would not stay at Pekin if the school switched.

One parent stated that his kids all hate school, but still want to stay at a five-day week, to his surprise. He pointed out that Waco, one of the schools Pekin is trying to replicate, studied the four-day week for years before switching and that Cardinal, another four-day school, initially rejected the planned switch. He brought up claims from Waco Principal Tim Bartels that Pekin’s daycare problems would just work themself out and stated that, in his experience, problems don’t just work themselves out. He stated that he would have liked to have heard from representatives from schools who rejected the switch to four day weeks, to be fair. He stated that the four-day week is great for teachers, but the school has to put kids first.

An instructional coach at Pekin stated that she often has to meet teachers on weekends or before and after school, because teachers are so busy. She stated that a four-day would be great for collaboration and allow for more professional development time. She said she was disheartened to hear the community insult teachers and call them lazy and stated that teachers need time to implement lessons. A Pekin teacher stated that the best days for him were ones after he had a professional development day to plan and prepare his week, because that allows him to just teach for the rest of the week. He stated there is a huge burnout issue with teachers, which will only get worse. He said four-day weeks were inevitable for rural schools and that Pekin could either wait five years, or roll with the punches and be an early adopter.

One grandparent of Pekin students stated that, rather than spending years researching a four-day week, the school look at research into professional development, which she stated has proven that the only way teachers can improve is with more time to work together. One instructional coach stated that retaining teachers is important and that, although the proposed four-day switch is rushed, she didn’t think the district would have more answers in a year. She stated that a four-day week gives a gift of time to teachers.

At the start of the meeting proper, Board Member Mike Sieren stated that he had spoken to 15 teachers and that every single one of them was concerned primarily with what was best for kids. Board member Kortney Baumberger stated that it was great that Pekin had seen so many responses in such a short amount of time, but that she was concerned the district was moving too fast. Board Member Sherry Bemis stated that the school could encounter unanticipated consequences of switching and asked Superintendent Derek Philips what he recommended. Philips recommended staying at five days.

Sieren stated that people were okay with going to a four-day week eventually, but want time and answers. Philips stated that he didn’t get the feeling that the community would never want a four-day week, but that they need clarity and answers right now. He pointed out that Waco lost 30 kids their first year and stated that he didn’t know if Pekin could survive that. Philips stated that the district should try to get the percent of staff opposed from 25% to 10% and the percent of parents opposed from 45% to 20% before moving forward.

Board Member Ray Fear said that the discussion of switching lit a fire in the community and that Pekin needs to find a way to balance student retention and teacher retention. He stated that there were still questions remaining about day care, staffing, bussing, sports, and transportation. Fear recommended the board discuss this again next year, after the school has had more time to study and the community is more comfortable.

Board Member Josh Arendt stated that the switch needs to be a Pekin specific thing, not just a copy of what Waco or Cardinal did, and that the board cannot say yes with the unanswered questions. Board President J.J. Greiner stated that his questions about food insecurity hadn’t been solved and raised concerns that cooks and bus drivers would leave if they lost a day of work. Sieren stated that, although the board is putting the four-day week on the backburner, good conversations had come, conversations that they wouldn't have talked about six months ago.

Bemis asked how much work time teachers will receive on PD days, if the school stays at five days. Elementary Principal Jenny Bell explained that teachers receive very little work time after the beginning of the year, due to having to spend so much time on training and learning new curriculum. Bemis stated the board needed to find a way to incorporate more work and wellness time.

The board also discussed changing to an eight-period school day next year. Secondary Principal Shawn Dorman explained that an extra period would give students opportunities to take more classes and add more flexibility. The district plans to “stair step” increase graduation requirements to compensate, with the class of 2024 continuing to need 46 credits, the class of 2025 needing 48, and the class of 26 needing 52.

The board discussed committing money towards the Pantherplex, an indoor sports facility the Pekin Sports Boosters intend to build. A donation from the school will help the Boosters acquire donations from other groups. The board approved giving $100,000, pending the rest of the facility’s costs being raised.




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