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Montezuma-Cortez moving to four-day school weeks

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a shift to four-day school weeks.
District to implement temporary measure in January

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 is moving to a four-day calendar beginning in January.

Discussion on the change has been ongoing, although more recent conversations have touted the shift as a solution to critical staff shortages and declining morale among staff. Other potential solutions are being developed, including school consolidation and teacher pay initiatives.

The district joins a majority of schools in the state in departing from conventional calendars, if only temporarily.

The 2022-2023 calendar will warrant further discussion.

In the past, four-day weeks were in part rejected because of limitations imposed by bus routes that would have forced school days or school years to be “extremely long,” said Executive Director of Academic Student Services Jim Parr at the meeting. Also, five-day weeks were familiar, and Board President Sherri Wright said teachers would have had to work every other Friday under old proposals.

Colorado leads the nation in school districts with four-day weeks, with 114, or 64%, of its 178 districts participating in the model in the 2021-22 academic year, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

The RE-1 Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the transition, and the district will follow in the footsteps of Mancos and Dolores schools. Mancos led Montezuma County schools as the first to shorten its calendar, at the onset of the 2017-2018 school year. Dolores condensed its weeks at the start of this school year.

Executive Director of Finance Kyle Archibeque told the board it would have to approve an expenditure of about $780,000 to allow for teachers to be paid more to make up for fewer workdays while aligning with agreed salary contracts.

He said some details have to be worked out, such as whether school-related activities will take place on Fridays, and how teachers would be selected and compensated for instructing on those days.

Superintendent Risha VanderWey said the district is working with community organizations that will help to support students and teachers on Fridays.

“This would be a lifeline for our staff,” said board member Stacey Hall.

Other board members expressed similar sentiments.

New high school board representative Avery Wright said she conducted a social media survey asking high school students their thoughts on four-day weeks. While only six responded, she addressed pros and cons raised by the survey.

More time and flexibility for students with jobs – as well as more time for family and friends – were mentioned pluses, she said. Reported negatives included having a longer school year, less time to prepare for Advanced Placement exams, moving practice schedules and potential anxiety in a midyear switch.

“Teachers are amazing; they’re our foundation. If they can’t teach us what they’re passionate about, then what’s the point of them teaching?” she said. “So it goes iffy-iffy, because some students are for it and some students are against it, but I think it’s important to listen to the teachers.”

The board’s decision came after the district issued a survey Nov. 5 asking for community input on the new calendar. Wright said the results were about 80-20, favoring the four-day structure. The number skewed higher for teachers.

The last day of school was originally slated for May 18. With the new proposed calendar, it will fall on May 26. Graduation will still take place May 19.

Winter and spring breaks are the same, although there will be no additional break April 25, and school will remain open for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.

With the approval of the new calendar, there are now 160 student contact days this school year. The previous calendar totaled 168 secondary school days and 166 elementary student days.