Warrenton becomes latest Missouri school district to move to four-day school weeks

WARRENTON • The Warren County School District on Thursday joined a growing trend among Missouri school districts: It is moving to four-day school weeks.

The school board voted 6 to 1 in favor of the move, which Superintendent Gregg Klinginsmith said would help the district with its main challenge — teacher retention.

The district, about 60 miles west of St. Louis, had a 20 percent turnover during the 2017-2018 school year, he said, and most teachers left for higher paying jobs in the Wentzville area.

He also hopes the change will improve attendance (the district falls in the bottom 15 percent of districts in the state for attendance) and its deficit spending. Klinginsmith estimates that the change will save the district about $300,000 — less than 1 percent of its total budget.

“It is a little bit of a cost saving, and we need to be saving money, but it’s more about retaining teachers,” Klinginsmith said. “We don’t have the resources to pay salaries as high as our neighbors to the east so we thought we might try using time as an incentive for teachers to stay and work here. There’s been a lot of studies about what correlates to high student achievement, and it comes down to teachers.”

Board President John Clinger declined to comment on the decision, referring all questions to Klinginsmith. Board member Roger Tucker, who cast the lone dissenting vote last week, was unavailable for comment.

The schedule change will take effect for the 2019-2020 school year. Classes will be held Tuesday through Friday with the school day extended 33 minutes. Supervision for students will be available on Mondays with breakfast and lunch also available.

Klinginsmith said he envisions that Mondays will eventually include high school students tutoring younger students, and mental and physical health services including meetings with counselors.

“If we have Mondays focused on care and Tuesdays through Friday focused on academics, that could really be a different model for how a school could be run,” he said. “There will be no transportation provided on those days, but parents can drop off their children on their way to work. It’s a very flexible schedule.”

Hope Fick, a parent of four children who will attend all three schools in the district next year, said she looks forward to reducing her travel time to and from school by 20 percent.

“I understand the complaints,” said Fick who works as a real estate agent. “My schedule is more flexible than most. I would be less excited if I had to use the Monday option for childcare. I do wonder how it will affect housing values in general. For me, it would be a selling point.”

Klinginsmith said the new schedule could also prove helpful for older students.

In Warren County, high school students have the lowest attendance rates. About 50 percent of its student body also receives free and reduced-price lunches — an indication of poverty, Klinginsmith said.

“Our lower-income kids say they have to work, so we hope they can schedule work on Mondays, then come to school Tuesday through Friday,” he said.

Jeffrey Napier, a parent of two students in the district, said he worries the district might not have done enough research before voting on the change.

“The four-day week seems to becoming more popular but I feel our district may have rushed the decision,” he said. “And I’m just concerned for the hourly employees that it may affect.”

Kristen Karrenbrock, who works part time in food service in the district, said she hopes the change will help retain teachers.

Karrenbrock said that as her son went from kindergarten to fifth grade, all but a few teachers had left his school.

Klinginsmith said most of his research was based on data from districts that have already gone to four-day school weeks. He called them “pioneer districts.”

For the current school year, 25 school districts in Missouri had four-day schedules. Next year, that number is expected to increase to 35. Warren County, with its 3,000 students, will be the largest district among them, Klinginsmith said.

Nationwide, about 560 school districts in 25 states have at least one school on a four-day schedule, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan resource and research group.

Looking at two years of data before the four-day schedule took effect and two years after it took effect among “pioneer districts,” Klinginsmith found:

10 out of 15 saw increases in their attendance rates.Eight saw improved test scores; seven saw decreased scores.“In my analysis, there’s very little correlation to student achievement and total hours in a school year, you could really flip a coin on that, but what does impact student achievement is the teacher in the classroom,” Klinginsmith said.Salaries for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees are only about $2,000 higher in neighboring Wentzville. But salary schedules from the two district show a 10-year teacher with a master’s degree could earn $53,161 in Wentzville, compared with $48,235 in Warren County.

If that 10-year teacher has a master’s plus 30 hours of continuing education, that teacher can get $60,520 in Wentzville, compared with $53,019 in Warren County.

“We had to be creative about teacher retention, and potentially find ways to increase our attendance, and this is where we landed,” Klinginsmith said.

Erin Heffernan of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Christine Byers • 314-340-8087

@christinedbyers on Twitter

cbyers@post-dispatch.com