The Harlandale Independent School District could be the first district in the region to move to a four-day school week as it struggles to recruit and retain the necessary number of qualified teachers.
More than 40 districts across the state have made a similar move, with more considering it for the upcoming year, including the La Vernia Independent School District east of San Antonio.
Staff of the South Side district are reviewing survey results from parents, teachers and staff gathered in recent days. Harlandale Superintendent Gerardo Soto said any decision will be based on those results.
“We are committed to hearing the voices of our teachers and staff and considering all options to improve working and learning conditions in our district,” Soto said in a statement. “It is no secret that many teachers are leaving the profession, so we also want to be proactive when it comes to retaining and recruiting teachers for our district.”
According to numbers shared with the San Antonio Report, there are currently 57 vacancies in the district, with a total of 926 full-time teacher positions offered. The district did not provide specific numbers, but said teacher recruitment has become more difficult in recent years, pointing to a Charles Butt Foundation poll that showed 77% of teachers were considering exiting the field.
Other districts have had success recruiting and retaining staff by making the switch, and increasing the number of qualified teachers on their staff.
But the proposed change is concerning to some parents.
Guadalupe Lopez, who has a son in kindergarten in the district, said that while the shift in the week itself shouldn’t be a hassle, she worries that the disruption in schedule, one less day without instruction, will be hard on her child, who has autism.
“That’s going to be a big change for him, which will cause a lot of chaos,” she said. “But also, it’ll cause him to be very distracted in school … which will cause him to fall behind academically.”
Lopez shared her concerns in the survey to the district, she said — adding that she is not completely against the idea.
“We’re open to new things,” she said. “If they are able to extend the school day, that would work, or extra work to be sent home to be studied.”
Those logistics have yet to be worked out, but adding time to the school day or days to the school year would be necessary to meet the required in-person operational minutes of 75,600.
Four day schedule equals longer days
The district has not yet shared what a schedule would look like if the change were adopted, but TV station KENS-5 reported that one potential scenario would have a school year starting on Aug. 8 and running through June 6.
An extra 20 minutes would be added to each day, with the school week running Tuesday through Friday. The station also reported possible school hours:
- Elementary school would run from 7:35 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.
- Middle school would run from 7:55 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.
- High school would run from 8:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.
On an Frequently Asked Questions page for the proposed change, the district says changes have not been finalized.
“Harlandale ISD wants to reiterate that no decision has been made and remains in the early stages of this possibility,” the district said. “If the decision to implement this is made, we will work to ensure that we come up with the best schedule for our students and staff.”
Child care a concern for parents
In addition to academics, which other parents worried about in comments on social media, the district anticipates the need for child care for children whose parents work five days a week and count on their children being in a school’s care for eight hours.
Mariana Veraza, a spokeswoman for the district, said that if the plan moves forward, a school would be opened to provide that care.
“Even in the survey that we sent out to the community … we said that we are planning on opening up one of our schools for child care for those days, whether it’s a Monday or Friday, for the day that this district is going to be closed,” she said. “We understand that there’s parents or grandparents that can’t take off or have full-time jobs.”
That approach has been successful in other districts that have made the switch to a four-day school week, including Pewitt Consolidated Independent School District in Northeast Texas, which moved to a four-day school week for the first time this year.
“It’s been a very positive experience for us, our teachers love it, our kids love it, and so far, our instruction is where it needs to be,” Melissa Reid, Pewitt’s superintendent, said.
Reid said concerns about child care were brought up early on, but have mostly worked themselves out. The district offers after-school programs and a half-day option for students who need it.
“We have about 27 kids every Friday, elementary kids for the most part,” she said. “They come and we serve them breakfast, and we do bus them to our school, and we serve them lunch and then they go home. But everybody else has figured it out and it has not been an issue at all.”
For other districts, that issue with child care was too prevalent to make the change to four days. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the Everman Independent School District, south of Fort Worth, decided against the change because of the burden it would place on families to find child care.
Increase in attendance reported
In Pewitt, the benefit has been clear, Reid said.
”The best part of it was it helped us retain and recruit some qualified teachers that we had had a hard time retaining prior to that,” she said.
Student and teacher attendance also increased since the change, Reid said, and the district has been able to meet the requirements of House Bill 4545, which requires a certain amount of extra instructional time for academically struggling students.
“We were just in a situation where we did not know how we were going to get all those hours in for those students who had failed four tests,” Reid said. “So this was one way for us to get some of their time in.”
In addition to the possible four-day work week, Harlandale has upgraded its insurance benefits to remain competitive, opened a mental health center for teachers, staff and the community, and prioritized raises for teachers as their budget allows, Veraza said.
An extra day would be another tool to recruit teachers, including those at other districts.
“If we give them one more day to spend time with their families, to get that rest that they need, we believe that it’s going to help out a lot, not just for our current teachers and for retaining them, but also for [recruiting] teachers from other places,” she said.