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McDonald County to shift to 4-day school week this fall

Mar. 20—ANDERSON, Mo. — The McDonald County School District will shift to a four-day school week for the 2024-25 academic year.

The McDonald County Board of Education voted Tuesday to adopt the new schedule, citing "a critical shortage of qualified educators."

Superintendent Eric Findley previously told the Globe that the need to find and keep teachers is driving the conversation in McDonald County.

"Right now we are the highest-paid school district in the conference. Our pay has been up between 9 and 11% the last three years," he said.

He added: "We only have so much money."

A first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree starts out at $40,614 in McDonald County; a teacher with 36 years of experience can make nearly $65,000.

But he noted that the district faces a challenge.

"Our situation now is our base is fair for the area. But if you go 7 miles south to Northwest Arkansas, it's $50,000," he said, referring to the starting pay for teachers.

The board also cited a decline in enrollment in teacher education programs at local colleges and universities, exacerbating the teacher shortage.

Findley said the district has 549 teachers, and he expects needing to hire 50 for the next school year to fill slots for teachers who move or retire or for those positions currently filled with uncertified staff.

The district announced on its Facebook page in January a survey of parents as it considered making the transition, and noted: "In a recent poll among McDonald County School District staff, more than 85% expressed their belief that a 4-day school week could change the rules of the game in recruiting and retaining first-grade educators."

Findley said in a statement issued Tuesday night: "I am looking forward to implementing the four-day school week to enhance teacher recruitment and retention, as well as to provide quality education for the students in McDonald County."

A number of districts in Southwest Missouri have already gone that route, including Aurora, Jasper, East Newton, Pierce City, Miller and Sarcoxie.

Some of the larger districts in the region, including Joplin, Carl Junction, Webb City and Carthage, have said there has been no discussion about shifting away from a five-day schedule.

Findley said districts are looking for strategies to attract and retain teachers, and, beyond raising wages, options include paying the full cost of insurance and decreasing class size. But the shift to a shorter week is one that is working for recruitment and retention.

"Teacher morale is higher in a four-day week. ... People who go to a four-day week don't go back. That's a pretty big statement right there," he said.

He was on a Zoom call in January with the Independence School District, which switched to a four-day school week for the current academic year. It was one of the largest districts in the state to make the transition.

"Once they went four days, they had four times as many applicants as when they were five days," Findley said.

Asked about impact on student scores, Findley said the research is neutral, "neither helpful nor harmful. You are getting the same scores whether you're four days or five days."

In fact, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education looked at the impact of the four-day week on school achievement across 16 states, and in a report earlier this year concluded: "Overall, no statistically significant effect on either academic achievement or building growth."

The department also noted the results were in line with the findings of other states.

There are some changes, Findley noted, including a longer school day for students, probably by about 45 minutes, and shorter break at Christmas and in the spring. He also noted there is a shortage of day care in McDonald County, which could affect working parents.

"What you have to do is what's best for your community," he added.