In response to widespread resignations that left some students without a certified teacher, La Vernia Independent School District trustees on Monday approved the adoption of a four-day school week.

La Vernia’s new schedule comes after community discussions and parent and teacher surveys were conducted. La Vernia is the first district in the San Antonio area to adopt the schedule, with Harlandale ISD poised to vote on the same move.

The schedule will run Monday-Thursday with draft calendars showing the school year starting on Aug. 9 and ending on May 23. Sample calendars show the school day will either be eight hours and five minutes long or eight hours and 15 minutes long, up from the current seven hours and 30 minutes. No calendars or start times have been finalized.

No teachers or other staff members will make less money, despite the reduction in working days, according to Helen Whisenhunt, the district’s chief instructional officer.

The departure of 88 teachers at the end of last year — almost 40% of teaching staff for the entire district east of San Antonio — led to the hiring of long-term substitutes and the use of in-class virtual programs. To address the exodus, the district began exploring innovative options this year to make teaching jobs more attractive, including shortening the school week.

“We lost several to other school districts, and we lost quite a few to retirement and then, of course, we lost some that just left the profession,” said Whisenhunt. “So, for a small district of our size … 88 was a pretty significant number to have to replace. 

La Vernia ISD has just over 3,000 students and about 450 staff members that include 220 teachers, according to Texas Education Agency data.

The plan in La Vernia is to pilot the new schedule for three years starting in the fall to see whether it works for the community. 

Harlandale Independent School District is set to vote on a similar measure next week, after spending the last several weeks polling parents, teachers and the community. 

Gerardo Soto, Harlandale’s superintendent, said early survey results show that about 77% of the community is in favor of the move, with 33% opposed. Those opposed had questions around how the schedule would affect working parents. 

“We’ve had some long-term subs, and as we know, the best resource for our children is the best teachers,” he said. “So we want to keep the best teachers and we want to recruit the best teachers to come to Harlandale.”

YMCA to care for 300 students

For working parents in the La Vernia district, the plan drew questions and concern on social media Monday about how they were going to care for their children for an extra day. 

According to an analysis by the advocacy organization Children at Risk, the 78101 zip code on the west side of La Vernia only has nine subsidized child-care seats available for every 100 working parents.

In response, the district said it is committed to providing free care and activities for up to 300 elementary-aged students at an intermediate campus, where the YMCA will provide the programming and staff.

The 78101 zip code on the west side of La Vernia, seen in red, has only nine child care seats at locations that accept subsidies per 100 children of working parents, according to the advocacy organization Children at Risk. Credit: Courtesy | Children at Risk

“We’re hoping to be able to help those families that are in need, that may have a single-parent home, or may have a home with two working parents or inflexible work schedules that are really in need of child care assistance,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re trying very hard not to put parents in any type of bind with not being able to work and provide for their family.”

Another option for parents who only need care on some days will be offered for a fee.

When surveyed, parents were more concerned with academic outcomes related to the change, Whisenhunt said.

Academic impacts of shorter school week

Despite more and more schools making the change to a shorter week, the research on the impact such a move has on student achievement is limited.

A growing number of Texas districts are considering the option, with more than 40 already making the change. In Missouri, 25% of the school districts have adopted the abbreviated schedule.

According to one study, the perception in schools that have made the change is that more learning is being done after the shift. The same study, however, found student achievement did not grow as fast in those districts as those with five-day schedules. 

Another study led by researchers at the nonprofit NWEA used Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP testing, to analyze the impacts of the schedule change at 35 schools across six states.  

On average, the shift to a four-day schedule had a slightly negative impact on academic achievement, with a larger impact on suburban and non-rural schools.

The schedule change also negatively affected females more than males and Hispanic students more than white students, according to the analysis.

But Whisenhunt pointed out that the research is new and — more importantly — doesn’t look at the impacts of the changes in Texas schools. 

The district examined STAAR standardized test scores over the last six years at 14 Texas school districts that have adopted four-week schedules.

“We did not find any student achievement data that showed that it was harmful to students,” she said, adding that the demographics were not similar to La Vernia. 

In addition to the academics, another study found that four-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by about 39% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 31%, but have “no detectable effect on other incident types, ACT scores, or attendance.”