AURORA | Starting in the upcoming school year, Vanguard Classical Schools will switch to a four-day school week. The charter school, which has campuses in Aurora and Denver, hopes the change will boost student well-being and strengthen connections with families.
Instead of classes, Mondays will be used to provide targeted tutoring for students who struggled academically during the pandemic.
“We’re thinking this is a very direct way to really try to help students and lessen the growth gap,” executive director Jay Cerny told The Sentinel.
Cerny said the school’s leadership team began researching the potential benefits of a four-day week this school year and found research suggesting that it helps school districts form stronger connections with families and improves student well-being by giving them a longer break. It also decreases student and staff absences by giving them a day during the work week to schedule appointments and conduct other business.
“We’re trying to put a really high emphasis on the value of family time,” he said.
The change was approved by the school board in March, and the administration sent a letter out to families last week officially notifying them about the decision. It still needs to get final approval from the Colorado Department of Education, which is expected to give its decision next week, but Cerny said he believes it will be approved.
For families that cannot have their students at home on Mondays, the school is implementing a day program at both campuses for students in kindergarten through 8th grade from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The cost for one student will be $38 for a whole day of supervision and $20 for a half day, and may be free for families if they apply through the Colorado Childcare Assistance Program. If they do not qualify for free care but cannot afford the full price, the school will offer them a subsidized rate.
The school will be using data from assessments conducted this spring to invite some students to participate in tutoring sessions on Mondays, which Cerny said was “an incredible driver” for the new schedule.
Students in 2nd through 8th grade have been most affected by pandemic learning loss, he said, and will be offered tutoring in English, math and, for English language learner students, literacy. The sessions will take place from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. two or three Mondays a month and will be conducted by Vanguard teachers and staff, who will be offered an additional contract to work that day.
Students in 9th through 12 grade will be given the option to complete supervised credit recovery if they have classes they failed in previous year that they want to make up.
The tutoring will be strongly encouraged but not mandatory for anyone, Cerny said. The school is preparing for several hundred students to take advantage of it.
Much or possibly all of the money to pay teachers on Mondays will be drawn from federal pandemic funding to help schools recover from the effects of the pandemic, he said.
When researching four-day weeks, Cerny said the leadership team’s main concern was that most districts that implemented it lost 60-70 hours of instructional time per year. Vanguard will rearrange its schedule so that it will have slightly more instructional hours next year. The district will start a week earlier, eliminate its fall break and add about 20 minute to each school day.
In Colorado, 64% of school districts have a four day school week, according to a 2021 report from the Colorado Department of Education. The majority are smaller districts in rural parts of the state.
Vanguard Classical is unique in that its decision to switch to a shorter week is not motivated by financial need. The school told parents it’s not cutting the budget, and will dedicate an estimated $500,000 saved in utilities and cleaning costs to instructional costs and teacher support.
Janelle Asmus, a spokesperson for the 27J school district in Brighton, said that the district transitioned to a four day school week in 2018 after a failed mill levy vote in the previous election.
Families were unsure of the change at first but it has become “business as usual,” she said. The district provides low-cost child care for families that cannot make other arrangements, but not many people make use of it.
The schedule has been an attractor for teachers as the district struggles to be competitive with salaries and gives students more time to spend with their families on the weekend instead of just doing homework, Asmus said.
“It really is a much more relaxed way of handling the weekend and getting prepared for the week ahead,” she said.
Because of the effects of the pandemic and the cancellation and low participation in state tests over the past few years, it has been hard to track academic performance in the ensuing years. However, Asmus said the district’s graduation rate has continued to rise since 2018.
“It seems to not be hurting us and when you look at graduation rates it seems to actually be helping us,” she said.
A survey conducted by Vanguard Classical Schools found that 70% of parents and 95% of staff were in favor of switching to a four day week, Cerny said. That tracks with data reported at the state level.
“Satisfaction surveys indicate that 80% – 90% of community members favor continuing the four-day week in districts which have been on the schedule for several years,” the CDE report said. “The opposition seems to come from members of the community not directly associated with the school, and from those who feel that school employees should work a traditional week.”
As well as benefiting current students, Cerny hopes that the new schedule will be a draw to families not currently enrolled. The west campus in Denver currently has 350 students with the capacity for a total of 450, and the east campus in Denver currently has 750 students with capacity for 900.”
“We’re really hoping this will not only fill the schools but really set them apart,” he said. “We want to be a realistic choice for as many people as possible that are interested in this.”