The Pe Ell School District will be one of the first Washington schools west of Yakima to offer a four-day school week beginning next fall. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction staff approved a waiver application submitted by Pe Ell School officials in May following months of discussion and debate amongst themselves and the community.
State law requires a district seeking to hold fewer than 180 instructional days to obtain a waiver by showing the move would be economically prudent while allowing for more efficient and better operations for students, staff and parents. Pe Ell students will attend school from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, for a total of 150 days of classroom instruction that still meets the minimum number of required hours of instruction required by state law.
According to a calendar published this week on the school district website, there are no half-days scheduled and students will be able to take part in enrichment days on the campus about every other Friday. Teachers and school staff will take part in professional development activities one Friday per month.
“We’re going to be more focused now moving forward on what we do on a daily basis with our kids,” Pe Ell School Principal Brandon Pontius said. “We’ll be working as a leadership team on moving this forward now, making it work and having it be successful so that we do what’s in the best interest of our kids.”
Pontius and Superintendent Kyle MacDonald, who was out of town and unable to be reached for comment prior to press time, led informational sessions and answered questions during school board meetings prior to the May 31 deadline for the district to submit its application to OSPI. More than 57 percent of the 153 community surveys filled out in April indicated support for a four-day week, according to analysis performed by The Chronicle.
Proponents of the move, including Pontius, have stressed the importance of having more time for professional development — Pe Ell staff will receive 70 hours of instruction, about double what they took part in during the most recent school year — and the ability to deliver a more in-depth curriculum during longer school days. Detractors cited concerns that standardizing a three-day weekend would put an undue burden on working families.
“We’ve made a spreadsheet of sorts just to be able to track kids’ progress with a more formative assessment,” Pontius said. “We’ll be tracking grades, academic eligibility lists, all of those things that help us figure out where students are succeeding and where they need some help. We’ll have more time now with all of this to be able to look at the data.”
The current plan for enrichment days is for the school to be open from 9-11:30 a.m. for activities ranging from academic credit retrieval and reading booster camps to athletic camps. Additional after-school activities and opportunities to learn outside the classroom are still being worked out, Pontius said.
Collaborative efforts involving the school district, the local food bank and other partners are being firmed up for students who rely on nutritional services for much of their daily food intake. It is anticipated that those students will have access to take-home bags of food on Thursday afternoons.
“Our next steps are to work through the planning process and work out some things like scheduling with the (teachers and classified staff) unions,” Pontius said. “We’ll be sending out a newsletter next month and we’ll have an email system set up for parents to submit comments and ask questions.”
The five Washington school districts that offered four-day school weeks during the 2018-19 academic year were in: Benton County, Douglas County, Klickitat County and Pend Oreille County. Legislation co-sponsored earlier this year by State Reps Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, and Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, increased the number of waivers available from five to 10 in anticipation of more districts choosing to explore the option.
Waivers are granted by the state for a maximum of three academic years, but a yearly review process undertaken by both the district and state officials allows for either to return to the regular five-day week ahead of schedule.