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Going 360: Exploring 4-day school weeks in Missouri

Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-26 20:37:12-04

PLATTSBURG, Mo. — In Missouri, 141 school districts in the state are adding by subtracting.

Many districts in the state are subtracting one day from the weekly calendar.

Popularity has multiplied in recent years, as communities embrace a four-day school week.

Now, KSHB 41 News is taking this topic 360. In this story, you'll hear from:

  • A teacher, parent and student who've moved to a four-day week
  • Superintendents who oversee districts that moved to a four-day week
  • A superintendent exploring adopting a new schedule

Parents, students and teachers in a four-day week

Amanda Grier is in her first year at Ellis Elementary in the Clinton County R-3 School District, and her 12th year as an educator.

"I just want to be a part of that village that helps them grow up and succeed and give something back to their community," Grier said.

Grier left St. Joseph to come to Plattsburg, saying the four-day week was a major selling point. She says she hasn’t seen a change in her new classroom.

"I don’t notice a huge difference. I don’t notice a loss in learning, I don’t notice a loss in instruction time," Grier said.

Clinton County R-3 school days run from 7:50 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

A recent Brookings Institute study says maintaining adequate learning time within the confines of four school days is "key to avoiding student learning loss."

However, results nationwide are mixed.

"Quality of life as a teacher, when so many other districts are struggling to retain teachers, I think our district has done a great job of trying to flatten that curve," said Cody Denton, a coach and parent in the Clinton County R-3 District. "And this is just one way."

He started when the district made the switch and has seen his quality of life improve. He's also seen his fourth grader and kindergartener thrive.

"They do great having four days, Denton said. "They love being home with mom on Monday, home with myself, doing stuff we normally don’t get to do."

The district confronted the childcare question by offering care on-site, but need has declined annually.

Bridget Welch, a middle school teacher in the district, says families have adjusted.

"I’ve never heard any complaints from anyone, so I think they figured out, like snow days or summer break, they figured out how to fill those days in," Welch said.

Welch also has kids in the district and says they love the four-day week.

"My children are more relaxed when they go in, so they’re not as stressed when they go into the classroom and they have more time to prep for the week as well," she said.

This is the sixth year of a four-day week in Plattsburg. Harper Sowers, an eighth grader and five-sport athlete, remembers the shift.

"I believe I was in third grade, and it was a really big change," Harper said.

She says that extra day has been a big boost for her health.

"Honestly, it is way better than a five-day school week because I have a lot less stress mentally and physically since I can keep up with all my homework on the weekends, and also a lot of rest being an athlete," Harper said.

KSHB 41 visited Evan Hilbert’s sixth-grade broadcast class.

Evan recently moved from a five-day district to Clinton’s four-day schedule and says he loves it.

"I think it’s probably helping me out because I have a little less stress on my back, you know?" he said. "I don’t have to worry about remembering something for a few extra days."

Superintendents managing a four-day district

Dr. Sandy Steggall, superintendent of Clinton R-3, says the schedule change was originally for one reason.

"Ours was purely retention," he said. "Our turnover rate was approximately 23-25%."

Since then, the district's turnover rate has tumbled to 5% after putting the four-day week in place.

"Each year, we’ve decreased the number of staff we’ve had to replace, and this year was a record low — we only had to replace five teachers," he said. "For a K-12 district, that’s unheard of."

Clinton County R-3 has 675 students.

Nine miles to the east, the Lathrop School District is slightly bigger, with a population of around 900 students.

The district has had a four-day week for more than a decade and is saving financially.

"We are saving 1-1.5% per year, that’s been consistent over the life of the thing," said Chris Fine, Lathrop School District superintendent. "For us, we’re able to add 25 hours of instruction."

Fine adds that his district has also recruited new talent.

"We were getting good applicants and stealing some from other places we hadn’t stolen from before, honestly," Fine said.

Superintendents considering shifting to four-day school weeks

Of the 141 Missouri districts on a four-day week, less than two dozen have a four-figure enrollment.

But what about districts with a five-figure student population, like the Independence School District?

"The very earliest this would occur would be next school year," said Dr. Dale Herl, superintendent of the Independence School District.

Herl says the district has begun exploring a four-day week for one big reason.

"This was brought on not as a cost savings measure, but as you look at what’s going on in in the country regarding teacher shortages, bus driver shortages, even nutrition service, we want to be proactive and look at possible solutions for that," he said.

This new approach is gaining traction.

Steggall says getting to the root of the issue — supporting teachers and paying them what they’re worth — is essential to insuring the future health of public education.

As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we've excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at