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After consideration, Marfa ISD is switching to four-day school week

Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
The Marfa High School campus in Marfa, Texas.

After receiving feedback from students, parents and staff, Marfa Independent School District will move to a four-day school week starting in the fall.

In a 5-0 vote on Monday, the district’s school board approved the move — which is part of a growing trend among rural schools across the state. The district’s leadership said the schedule change will be beneficial in multiple ways and marks the first time a district in the Big Bend region has adopted a permanent four-day schedule to use Friday as an opportunity for students and teachers to catch up on work.

“We’re going to use that day to get better for our kids,” said Marfa ISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero.

With this new schedule, Fridays will become a day to provide tutoring, host parent-teacher conferences, and give teachers more time to prepare lesson plans — something they typically do after work hours, or over the weekend, Aguero said.

“If we are purposeful with that Friday, then we can have time for our teachers to do things they can't do during the regular day,” Aguero said. “So one of the benefits that we looked at is if we have four days of instructional [time] where everyone has to come, and then Friday becomes a remedial day where we're inviting students that are behind.”

In Texas, schools are required by the state to provide at least 75,600 minutes of instruction each year, including lunch and recess. And according to a spokesperson with the Texas Education Agency, school districts can ultimately decide how the minutes are broken up through the week, giving them the flexibility to transition to a four-day schedule.

In Marfa, Aguero said the approximately 230-student district has been “building up to” the four-day schedule, and has incrementally lengthened the school day over the last two years. Now, beginning in the fall, to meet state requirements, he estimates the school day will only need to be lengthened by 15 to 20 minutes.

Other districts in the Big Bend region have adjusted their schedule in similar ways in recent years. Fort Davis ISD Superintendent Graydon Hicks said his district has “had intermittent four day weeks for a couple of years.”

"It doesn’t save any money, but gives staff and students a little break every now and then,” he wrote in an email to Marfa Public Radio.

In Alpine, the district’s superintendent, Michelle Reinhart, said a discussion about moving to a four-day school week “has come up in previous years” but isn’t one Alpine ISD is “exploring at the time.”

“I haven't yet seen data from schools that have implemented this type of calendar that show improvements in student outcomes as a result of this schedule change,” she wrote in an email. “Many schools that implement a four-day week talk about the benefits of this change for staff; we're waiting to see how this kind of schedule change results in positive impacts for students.”

Marfa graduates in 2021.
Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
Marfa graduates in 2021.

As districts across the state and country make a four-day schedule shift, some educators and parents have expressed concerns about the change’s impact on low-income families, as some working parents rely on school as a form of childcare and depend on schools for daily meals.

For Marfa, Aguero said surveys recently sent to staff, parents, and students included questions about concerns with the change, and respondents largely said they had none, with only a few parents mentioning childcare as an issue.

Another benefit, Aguero said, is the move gives families time to travel to cities “to make appointments, to organize things, to do the things that we need to do.” Often families in Marfa and other rural communities must travel several hours and hundreds of miles to access medical care and other necessities.

Aguero also hopes the change will give students and teachers a “brain break,” especially he said as “the state is continuing to ask us to do more and more.”

“I see it as a big plus,” said Aguero. “This is one way that we could say, ‘Hey, we're gonna support you by giving you time to work and do things.”

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.