Student absences are down. Learning time is up. And people are happy.

The four-day school week Rich School District started this past school year is going well, Superintendent Dale Lamborn and Rich Board of Education members told the State Board of Education on Thursday.

Students go to school Monday through Thursday. Fridays are typically set aside for athletic events under the three-year program approved by the State Board of Education last year.

"One of the things principals realize is a benefit is the attention students have in school itself," board member Blair Francis said. "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are for studying."

State law requires students to attend school at least 990 hours and 180 days a year but lets the state board waive rules viewed as hindering schools from accomplishing their mission.

In 1997, some small, southern Utah schools were allowed to pilot a four-day week to keep school days free of activities, which would be held instead on Thursday nights, Fridays and Saturdays.

The problem is, when students played during the week, they and their coaches — who often required substitutes — travel long distances to the next rural school, requiring they miss some school time. Students would show up to class the next day exhausted, if at all.

But a program evaluation found the four-day school week didn't effect much change in attendance, in student achievement or transportation costs.

Still, the state board last year voted to let Rich give it a try.

Thursday, board member Debra Roberts praised the district for "putting so much time and effort into making sure this is done correctly."

Districtwide, absenteeism decreased by 36 to 46 percent per trimester, and by 70 to 94 percent for those involved in athletics, Lamborn reported. Third-trimester athletics absenteeism at the high school went from 1,943 last school year to 110 this year. Overall absenteeism at the same time went from 11,774 districtwide to 6,363, a drop of 46 percent.

Coaches are in class more too because they're not having to be gone all day Fridays traveling to athletic contests, Rich High principal Rick Larsen wrote to the state board.

"This has led to more serious and rigorous attitude among the students and the teachers in the classroom," he wrote.

North Rich Elementary and Rich Middle School leaders also called the change a "major success," allowing more time to cover the core curriculum in detail.

"This year has been basically interruption-free," writes Rich High teacher Weston Taylor. "Busy work became a thing of the past, and I interacted with the students because they were basically all in class expecting to learn something each day. In my opinion, the four-day week has drastically improved my ability to do my job."

School is held 155 days, but students get in 1,015 hours. Classes are held on Fridays to offset Monday holidays, like Labor Day and Presidents Day.

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And if you look at it in terms of activities, in which 90 percent of students are involved at some point, Lamborn says, students and coaches sometimes have five- or six-day workweeks.

"When students participate at a level ours are, Fridays aren't off, anyway," Lamborn said. "They're either playing, or they're on a bus going to play. It's not like they're at the mall skateboarding, because there isn't a mall."

The district must report to the State Board of Education on the program every year. The board asked to see comparative test scores in next year's report. "That would give us more to look at," board member Richard Sadler said.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com