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Board approves 4-day school week

The Three Forks school board unanimously adopted a four-day school week for the 2022-2023 school year during its May 18 meeting, following the trend set by many other small town, Montana schools.

With the new schedule, students will begin their first class at 8 a.m. and their final class will end at 3:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The upcoming school years calendar change also accommodates ongoing construction and renovations with a later start and end date.

The district will continue to provide Friday care for students whose parents work; however, Superintendent Rhonda Uthlaut explained that the board has yet to determine specific details. During a phone conversation with the Three Forks Voice, Uthlaut entertained the idea of sending a survey to parents asking what type of Friday care–if any–their child would need. “We’re going to support the community,” she said.

These alterations allow staff and students to attend school four days a week without sacrificing any instructional minutes. Three Forks school district’s staff will not encounter a loss of annual contracted time in school either. For students, Friday is reserved as a remedial day for students falling behind in classes or a time for students to serve detention. Meanwhile, the school will require staff and teachers to work one full-Friday each month.

Shortening the school week to four days benefits the staff, the students, the parents and the district in different ways. According to Three Forks Middle School and High School Principal Gregory Heys, teachers can use this day to complete their grading, freeing the weekend for either family or personal time. Uthlaut suggested that staff could take the extra day off to put in time at another job.

Meanwhile, students can take advantage of more intensive tutoring time as needed. During the meeting, Uthlaut told the board that parents can use the extra day off to schedule doctors appointments or vacations, therefore, improving attendance during the regular school days. Additionally, the shortened school week will limit how much sports interfere with attendance.

The district expects the shorter school week to decrease the demand for substitute teachers.

One benefit shared by all parties is fuel savings. Without school on Friday, the district especially hopes to conserve fuel by running fewer routes. The district hopes to secure funding for Friday care programs and activities through a 21st Century Learning grant.

While the schedule change could decrease the district’s spending, Uthlaut emphasized that this choice was not done for budgetary constraints; however, it will benefit the schools’ budgets.

At the conclusion of the 2022-2023 school year, Uthlaut suggested that the district survey parents, staff and students to gather their feedback and re-evaluate before voting on the next school year calendar.

Prior to determining the calendar change, the district surveyed both staff and parents. To Uthlaut’s surprise, both parties favored the shorter school week, with more than 80% of parents voting for the new schedule.

Approximately 175 Montana school districts approved a four-day schedule for the 2021-2022 school year.