April 17, 2024

East Union four-day still in discussion

East Union Schools gave a chance for the community to give their opinion on a proposed four-day school week.

AFTON - Last Wednesday, East Union held a second public forum to give voice to the community toward a proposed 4-day school week, as well as share more nuanced data and presentations from East Union staff.

The public forum was built around more structured presentations, with members of the forum submitting and preparing written speeches.

Data

Data collected by a survey released following the announcement of the second public forum was presented, echoing the previous public forum’s survey findings. This session’s survey focused on families with children attending East Union, community members and staff.

Parents and community members were split once again on supporting the four-day school week, with 47.8% voting yes, 40.9% voting no, and 11.3% voting possibly.

The breakdown of the data found similar findings to last session’s survey when it comes to the age of parents’ students impacting their views on the four-day week. Parents with student in higher age ranges were more likely to support the four-day school week, with 94.7% of parents with a child in grades 9-12 voting for the four-day week.

Parents with PK-2 children voted no with 51.7%, sharing the concern for childcare availability from the first public forum outing.

ECC

Early Childhood Center Director Peggy Hardy presented early plans for assisting families with young children during the four-day week. Program options such as accepting child care assistance pay and providing hardship scholarships.

The ECC would charge $10 for the extra day per student, with a $15 family rate if there is more than one child. The ECC already has programs in place for the summer, winter, spring and any other school breaks.

ECC collaborators brainstormed a significant list of ideas available for community area connections for curriculum-based learning, but admits the ideas are still in the early stages of planning.

These ideas are based around a curriculum of “S.T.E.A.M.” (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) projects, with hands-on opportunities for students.

“Those are hands-on, interactive kinds of activities that we would expect to be doing,” said Hardy. “We don’t want any kids sitting in chairs doing worksheets or boring stuff on a fifth day. We would definitely want something interactive, catching their interest, seeing things that they want to learn about.”

Exhaustion

During the public forum portion of the meeting, details outlining the struggles the secondary education teachers are going through presented one of the vital reasons why the proposal was being considered.

Jean Kinyon, a teacher who has worked at East Union since 1998, described her personal struggles with the school. “I can’t think of a year where I did not work over my contracted hours,” she said. “The stress and drain on secondary staff due to the teacher storage is very real.”

She gave a detailed description of her week up to the day of the public forum, describing several times she had to cover classes and create teaching plans for classes she was not contracted to teach. Kinyon made it clear that her experience is one that is shared among all of the secondary staff.

“Do you really want stressed and drained secondary staff covering and instructing our secondary students?” she asked. “Times have changed recently, and change is very hard. We can work through this now and be proactive, or we can work through it later and be reactive. I just hope it isn’t too late for our secondary students.”

Exhaustion during the school week for elementary-aged students was a concern for the general public as well, with multiple citing the extended weekdays. With younger students having to adapt to these longer school days, there are potential troubles involving student burnout.

Megan Rone, a parent with students attending East Union, was concerned for elementary students, especially those who have a long bus commute such as Lorimor residents.

“As a board, I think you need to think about everyone here,” said Rone. “If you’re extending their day, they’re getting on the bus at 6:30 in the morning, and they’re getting off at 5 p.m., and I don’t know what kind of time that leaves for them at home.”

Relief

Curriculum Director Jason Riley gave a speech he prepared from an email he drafted and sent to the board. In it, he described the difficulties the school has in meeting offer and teach requirements.

“We only meet ‘offer and teach’ in math by having a teacher teach two courses at the same time and convincing students to take a math course online,” he said. “All of that thinking doesn’t take into account any other subject or the actual process of building a schedule that allows students to take the courses they need.”

Riley also described the process the school has taken to make filling open positions attractive to potential teachers, including the news about the four-day week has incentivized teachers to reach out to fill those positions if the school moves to it.

In addition, a concern for East Union was the attendance rate of students. According to East Union’s last Iowa School Performance Profile, the school noted 35.2% of students chronically absent, missing 10% of school days whether excused or unexcused (the average for Iowa is 25.2%). With changes being made to how absenteeism is affecting the performance profile score, this has become a concern for the district.

Excused absences can still count for a determination of chronic absence and are a problem the district is looking to solve with the four-day week. With the extra weekday, the district proposes any required absences, such as for medical appointments, can instead be used on the extra day. This possibility can also extend to teachers who are already swamped with obligations to the school.

The school board will vote on the four-day school week Tuesday, April 16, during the regular board meeting. This board meeting will take place following the public hearing on the school’s budget which starts at 5:30 p.m.

Nick Pauly

News Reporter for Creston News Advertiser. Raised and matured in the state of Iowa, Nick Pauly developed a love for all forms of media, from books and movies to emerging forms of media such as video games and livestreaming.