Lack of funding has pushed many Oklahoma school districts to a four-day week, but some districts have found there are other benefits. Locust Grove Schools switched to a four-day week three years ago, and they didn't do it for the money.
Alisa Cox has been a first-grade teacher in Locust Grove for 10 years, but she says the last three have been the most rewarding of her career. Not because of money, but because of time.
"We're able to read more. We're able to do math more. I love whole group, but the intervention groups are where it's at," she said.
Students in Locust Grove go to school four days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. They off on Mondays.
The longer days allow kids to be pulled out for small group instruction in the afternoons, polishing their skills in math and reading.
"They're moving forward wherever they're at," Cox said. "If we need more skills, we're working on that. If they're ready for second grade, we're moving forward.
"Just in one school year, we saw a 10 point percentage growth in one grade in math. Just in one school year."
Superintendent Lori Helton says Locust Grove is also saving money - particularly on transportation costs. Money that's being used for things like computers, new curriculum, even teacher bonuses.
"It's been a long time in Locust Grove since these things were able to be purchased," Superintendent Lori Helton said.
The approach has become so popular that this year, one in five Oklahoma kids is in a district operating on a four-day school week.
"We should not encourage this," said State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
Hofmeister worries about the long-term impact of four-day school weeks. The state school superintendent says Oklahoma already has one of the shortest school years in the country and believes a four-day week makes the disparity even worse.
"We are losing valuable time to sustain momentum and grow," she said. "Just adding more minutes to the day is not the same as having more days in the calendar year."
But in Locust Grove, administrators were also fighting another trend - lack of teachers. More money and higher test scores are the perks of a system, and that was initially designed to recruit teachers.
"I think every teacher in the state would like a day to plan for the upcoming school week," said Shane Holman, principal.
They say right from the beginning, it worked.
"The very next day, we had 15 resumes walk in the door unsolicited," said Superintendent Lori Helton.
One teacher even came back from Arkansas where she was making $7,000 a year more.
That teacher said the four-day schedule was more important than the big pay raise.
Still, Hofmeister is unconvinced. She points out that even if districts see an increase in scores, most still lag far behind the national average.
"That's the bar that we are going to need to achieve," Hofmeister said, "And I believe that takes all hands on deck, all week long."
In the meantime, Locust Grove employees say it would be hard to return to a five-day week.
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