Southern Door School District Floating Idea of Giving 17 Fridays Off

New calendar being designed for savings, teacher-attraction

A creatively crafted school calendar could broaden opportunities for some students and help the Southern Door School District attract and retain teachers, board members were told this month.

After weeks of discussion by teachers and staff and a preliminary survey of high school students, staff and additional stakeholders, elementary school principal Marc Vandenhouten on Jan. 15 presented three options for possible Thanksgiving or spring breaks and professional-development days on 2024-25 and/or 2025-26 calendars. The board voted Jan. 15 to approve a calendar similar to this year’s and to request a waiver from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to start classes during the week before Labor Day.

Still, the board could change to a different calendar, and asked Vandenhouten to slightly amend and then prepare his Option 3 to send to parents to gauge their interest. He sent the survey to all parents of district students this week.

That third option calls for 17 Fridays off during the school year, which was favored by the teaching staff and high school students over two other options. 

During an autumn school board meeting, two teachers on a negotiations team submitted to the board a list of ideas for retaining and attracting educators. Those included higher pay and achievement-based bonuses;  planning four-day workweeks; having a week off at Thanksgiving rather than spring; and having more professional-development days built into the school year. 

Vandenhouten said results of a focused survey of 346 employees, students and staff indicated a preference to start classes before September if it means the school year will end before Memorial Day. More respondents preferred a week off at Thanksgiving than a full week in the spring, but Vandenhouten noted that the survey took place right around Thanksgiving.

Vandenhouten said the idea for a schedule with 17 Fridays off and 11 of those for professional development stemmed from teachers’ suggestions.

That potential schedule would have only 164 classroom days instead of 174, but the school days would be 20 minutes longer. He said if the district cannot quite match salaries of northern Door County schools, it could do more to offer some free-time and quality-of-life incentives. 

More days off also would help students schedule medical or dental appointments, work weekend jobs or take on more professional-training or Youth Apprenticeship hours, school administrators suggested.

Board president Penny Price said she’s not surprised that high school students would love Fridays off, but she would want all families in the district to have an opportunity to weigh in on a change that would require daycare arrangements for 17 Fridays. 

Vandenhouten said the district already has an after-school program five days per week, and arrangements and alterations could be made to provide child care on those Fridays.

Board members also expressed concern about cafeteria workers, substitute teachers and bus drivers losing one day of work and pay. However, board members suggested paying those people more to match what they’d be paid for five days. Vandenhouten said the district would see some savings on transportation costs by having 10 fewer school days, but he’s not certain how much.

Board member Sam Counard expressed concern about parents needing to alter schedules or make arrangements for those Fridays. Counard also asked if the longer school days would force the district to create extra bus routes for students involved in activities, and he questioned giving students very little time between the end of the school day and the beginning of practices and activities.

Wisconsin Act 20, which pertains to new strategies for the teaching of reading, will require a portion of the Southern Door teachers to spend at least eight full days in training. All three proposed calendars build as many of those professional-development days into the school year as possible. 

Retraining Comes With A Cost

Wisconsin Act 20, which requires educators to change the way they teach reading, will require teachers statewide to spend time in summer or most of their districts’ professional-development days training for the changes. Southern Door middle school principal and curriculum director Kami Harvey said 22 of the district’s teachers will need to take Act 20 development training, at estimated costs to the district between $7,000 and $20,000 for training during the school year, and $36,000-$69,000 in summer due to additional “curricular pay.”

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