It was evident from the Onamia School Board meeting on March 18 that the board is likely to reapply to the state for permission to continue with the four-day school week, which is in its third year now.
Parents who want to make their opinions known should contact a board member or Superintendent John Varner before April 8, when the school board will hold a special meeting to vote on the issue.
As I said to Varner the other day, I have no dog in the fight, since my kids go to Milaca, but I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over the pros and cons.
The district is making two primary arguments in favor of continuing the four-day week: a financial one and an academic one.
When I asked the board members to clearly state their support or opposition, most came back to the financial argument: “I don’t want to cut any programs.”
I expressed some skepticism about that argument. After all, Varner said it’s a matter of $200,000 — which is less than 2 percent of the district budget.
I’m pretty sure if the board had the will, they could find $200,000 in cuts that wouldn’t kill any programs. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point.
Which brings us to the second argument: the academic one.
In education, this should always be the number one priority, and I find the district’s argument on this point most convincing — especially regarding the high school.
I’ve been very impressed by the both Isle and Onamia districts’ approach to improving test scores and overall academic performance.
In Onamia, the four-day week has been part of that, with increased time and energy put into staff development.
It seems to have paid dividends as high school test scores have improved dramatically.
However, as school board member Mark Anderson said, the four-day week is probably not ideal for the younger elementary grades.
For now, it appears that the district will try to make the best out of that less-than-ideal situation.
Regarding the academic argument, another obvious question is this: If it’s such a wonderful alternative, why isn’t everyone doing it?
I guess the answer is obvious, too: Our society is entrenched in a five-day work week, and it’s not easy for schools to break out of that mold.
I’ve had some experience in education as an on-again, off-again community college instructor over the course of 20 years — so I’m not a total ignoramus.
I taught a lot of high schoolers in the PSEO program during that time, and I became convinced that new ideas and experimentation in education are essential. I also became convinced that change is very difficult in a system as massive and entrenched in tradition as ours. To use a hackneyed simile, it’s like turning around an ocean liner.
In an ideal world, we’d start from scratch building an educational system that better reflects today’s needs and realities than the one we have — which too often looks more like something that belongs in the 19th-century than the 21st.
The four-day week is an opportunity to look at education in a new way, but it might not be enough to turn the ocean liner around before it hits an iceberg.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger. Email him at email@example.com.