Ontario district eyes 4-day school week amid pandemic pressures

ONTARIO – Ontario School District officials are considering a move to four-day school weeks as teachers grapple with the demands of the Covid pandemic. 

“If I could ask for anything to make my job better, it would be for more time,” said one teacher in a meeting with district officials. “More time for paperwork, planning, and grading. These are things I’m working on every night and every Sunday.”

“I would really like time,” said another teacher. “I know we don’t have a lot of it, but a little extra time would go a long way. It takes time to lesson plan for the digital equivalents that we are doing in the classroom that we are supposed to upload to Google Classroom, to communicate with parents (this last one I miss the most!!), and to give meaningful feedback to students.”

“Even though we’re so happy to be back in school five days a week, it is really hard work in a different way than it was hard work when we were doing distance learning,” said Superintendent Nikki Albisu during a recent school board meeting. “If you’re a classroom teacher, you’re planning for your students who are in the classroom during the day, and you’re also planning for the students who are asynchronous learning because they’re quarantined…At the same time, you have all of these Covid protocols that you’re having to uphold in your classroom.”

Asynchronous learning refers to virtual lessons that students complete at their own pace.

Albisu said in the board meeting that the district is short staffed, with few options for substitutes, which means that teachers have been covering one another’s classes during their prep periods.

Albisu said district administrators are considering options including Fridays off, Wednesdays off, or half days. As part of the deliberations, she and her team have reached out to parents to find out whether parents and students believe a four-day week would work. Currently about 80% of families surveyed are supportive of the proposal.

The time cut from the daily schedule would be used for asynchronous learning and reviewing concepts learned during the school week. 

“Schools will continue to support students who need additional support on asynchronous days,” Albisu said. 

Schools may utilize both instructional assistants and teaching and administrative staff to help support in-person students during asynchronous days. 

Another option for childcare that the district is considering is a potential partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Western Treasure Valley in Ontario. 

The board, Albisu said in an email to the Enterprise, was “very supportive” of teachers and administration in their desire to find more time. 

“Several of them have spent time in the buildings and have seen the challenges firsthand,” she said. 

Likewise, parents told the Enterprise that they supported the idea. 

“Based on our experience, it’s not only the school staff who need time,” said Amber Campbell, the parent of a freshman at the high school. “Going back into school, in person, after almost a year and a half has been more difficult than we thought it would be for our daughter.”

“My son has Down syndrome and thrives in a classroom setting,” said Melissa Tyler, the parent of a first grader. “If going to a four-day school week keeps him from doing distance learning, I am all for it.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Rebecca Castillo, who has four children at the middle and high schools. “I believe they need a break just as much as us adults need a break from a long week.”

Currently, Ontario is one of only two districts in Malheur County with a five-day week. The other is Annex. 

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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