ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Board of Education voted Thursday to maintain the four-day week at Clinch School through the end of the academic year, even though both direct routes between Rogersville and Clinch are now open.
That decision was partly due to Principal Denise McKee’s report before the board Thursday evening that student achievement and attendance had improved since the shortened week had been imposed last year.
It’s also an opportunity to continue an experiment to determine not only if there are academic advantages to a four-day school week, but if there are economic advantages as well.
In early September, the BOE agreed to operate Clinch on a four-day week with longer school days because Routes 66N and 70N were closed due to mudslides. Because of the closures, most teachers and staff had to take a 45-minute detour between Rogersville and Clinch to get to and from school.
Clinch is the smallest K-12 school in Tennessee and is located in a rural area on the north side of Clinch Mountain.
Although both roads are open, there is one small area of Route 70N on the north side of the mountain that is reduced to one lane due to the ongoing repair of a second, smaller slide. That area is controlled by a traffic light.
The county school system received a waiver from the state in September to continue the four-day schedule until both roads were open. Thursday’s decision is pending approval of an extended state waiver.
Math scores up, absenteeism down
On Thursday, McKee presented the BOE with a report on how the four-day school week has affected her students and staff.
For all of the daily attendance reporting periods so far this school year, Clinch has been at 96% or above, exceeding its goal by 1% each period, which didn’t happen last year.
Clinch is the only Hawkins County school to score at least 96% in each attendance reporting period and is the most recent recipient of the countywide school attendance trophy.
“The (national) research has shown that not only does attendance increase during a four-day school week, but math scores increase,” McKee said. “We compared 2018 to 2019 winter benchmarks, and we have improved in math. In 2018, 67% were in (the highest scoring) Tier 1, versus 2019 when we have 74% in Tier 1. In 2018, there were 13% in Tier 2. In 2019, there’s only 11% in Tier 2. And in 2018, there were 19% in Tier 3, and we have reduced that number to 15%.”
The pros of a four-day school week
“The culture is good, as you know,” McKee said. “Teachers have a lot of pressure on them. Our non-certified staff works so hard on a daily basis. You can just see the morale. People are not as tired by Thursday. They come in Monday energized and ready to be purposeful with their teaching and the decisions that we're making.”
She added, “I’ve asked the teachers, ‘How do you think it’s going? What do you see?’ They all say we can spend more time, and we’re going deeper, because we don’t have to cut off to get to the next class. We have an extra 15-20 minutes to spend a little more time.”
The cons of a four-day school week
The only disadvantages McKee has seen is scheduling for things like ballgames, or if there’s a Monday holiday, Clinch has to switch to a Tuesday-Friday schedule.
“It’s just communication, but we haven’t really had any complaints about it, but that would be the hardest thing, and snow days,” McKee said. “How do we adjust our schedule to what the district’s doing?”
Director of Schools Matt Hixson said another downside of the four-day week is the potential loss of pay for the cafeteria supervisor and bus drivers who lose work time due to the shorter week. So far, the system has been “getting creative” with those employees temporarily so they don’t suffer financially, but Hixson said there is no permanent solution as of yet.
Board member Judy Trent asked Hixson if he felt the road was safe.
Hixson said if the state deemed the roads safe, he has no reason to doubt that, although the school system has been closed multiple days over the past two weeks due to the heavy rain and concern for safety and potential slides in mountainous areas that are saturated.
“Let’s just see how this thing plays out”
Initially, BOE Chairman Chris Christian made a motion to continue the four-day week at least until the March 5 BOE meeting.
Tecky Hicks expressed concern about changing the schedule back to five days with only one or two months left in the school year after students have been on the four-day schedule all year.
“Why throw a stick in the spokes on a downhill run now?” Hicks said. “If we’re going to ask for a waiver, let’s just see how this thing plays out for the rest of the year.”
Christian then changed his motion to leave the schedule at four days for the rest of 2019-20, which was approved unanimously.