Four-day school week informational meetings underway
Superintendent Dan Maeder urged those present at Monday night’s school board meeting to go to the Iowa Association of School Boards’ online Advocacy Center and become a voice for Iowa’s public schools.
“It’s important to get to know your legislators and reach out to them about the bill promoting school vouchers,” he said. “There seems to be so much support for vouchers coming from the Republican party in rural areas where vouchers will have little impact (because of the small number of private schools in rural Iowa).
Under Gov. Reynolds’ new school voucher proposal, families would be eligible to receive $7,598 from the state to pay for private school tuition and associated expenses for each child.
Maeder says his biggest concern about the voucher bill is the estimated expense of $200 million to $300 million. “The education pot (in the state budget) is the largest pot already,” he said. “Are we going to add another $300 million?
“My concern is that (voucher money) will eventually start coming out of what’s already there, resulting in fewer opportunities for kids in public education.
“School choice already exists,” Maeder said, referring to open enrollment allowing students to attend the public school of their choice as long as that particular school is not filled.
“Under the voucher system, private schools can be selective,” Maeder said. “They can pick and choose who comes in.”
Maeder urges the public to contact legislators from this area — Senator Cherielynn Westrich, Representative Austin Harris, Senator Jeff Shipley, and Representative Adrian Dickey — and ask them to support public schools.
Maeder invites the public to contact him for talking points for those conversations. One of the questions Maeder would like to see the public ask their legislators is, “What is the real benefit of school vouchers to the kids they are representing?”
“I think they need to answer that,” he said.
The big item on the agenda for this school board meeting was an update on the four-day school week study.
The study began in October and November when a steering team of school employees was formed to plan and map out the process. Staff interest in the four-day week was surveyed in December.
A study group of local citizens and school employees met on January 9 to set up a timeline.
A panel discussion is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 18, from 6-7 at the MACC building to learn about the challenges other schools have faced as they implemented the four-day week.
A second panel discussion set for Wednesday, Jan. 25, will focus on the impact of a four-day school week on student achievement, student behaviors, mental health, and food-insecure students.
The third panel discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 1, will focus on family, community, and business concerns related to a four-day week.
As many as three virtual town hall meetings will follow in late February and early March before the issue is taken to the school board for a final decision.
All of the above panels and town hall meetings will be held virtually and be available for public viewing on www.dcmustangs.com.
Maeder also said a community feedback survey is live on the website but will close on Jan. 18 at 4 p.m.
“We are getting diverse feedback,” he said. “I hope the community stays engaged in this process. We want the website to be a clearinghouse for information.”
The survey issued to teachers before the holiday break showed a large majority of teachers (68-76%) believed the four-day week would ease workplace stress.
Fifty to 62% of certified staff members said the four-day week would influence their decision to continue employment with Davis County Schools.
A large percentage of teachers said a four-day week would improve their work-life balance and they would like to continue to study the possibility of implementing a four-day week.
Most felt minutes should be added to the school day to make up for days lost.
Teachers saw the following advantages to a four-day week for students: time to relax, play, and be a kid; opportunity to work, opportunity to schedule appointments on off day; more opportunities to be with family and extended family.
Staff members saw the following disadvantages for students: concern for children who need the structure school provides; concern about safety and food over a longer weekend; concern about learning loss over longer weekends; concern about at-risk students covering material in four days versus five.
During staff reports to the board, Maeder said the HVAC system at the middle schools is old and needs to be replaced. Chris Ball will be writing a grant application to seek funding for the HVAC system from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Becky Zesiger, Director of Instruction, reported the school has some good applicants in the pool for elementary positions. “We used to get 40-50 applications for elementary; now we get 10 if we’re lucky,” she said.
Zesiger is especially concerned about filling science positions at the middle school and high school. “We really need three high school science teachers to offer the needed electives in the science field,” she said.
A STOP grant application is being prepared by the district to allow the school to continue to work on SEL (social-emotional learning) goals. The grant should also provide funds for focusing on threat assessments and mental health.
“In the next month, several teachers will attend Bounce Back and S Set to learn about SEL needs, coping strategies, and helping kids identify their feelings due to trauma,” Zesiger added.
The school’s online education program is serving some students well by offering different pathways to get an education, Zesiger reported. Two have graduated through the online program and four new students are now enrolled. Trisha Horn facilitates these programs for the students.
Support Services Director Dan Roberts said the ELDT (Entry-Level Driver Training) classes will resume in February. Grant funding will cover many of the costs as well as pay $2,500 for other schools to send students.
Roberts reported the school is coming up with a plan to install honor benches near the schools’ athletic facilities to memorialize family members.
DCHS Principal Jennie Donels said student attendance at the high school level is “a challenge right now.”
“The students who are seniors now have not experienced ‘normal’ in the last few years. A lot got jobs, and we’re having trouble reeling them back in to get their diplomas. We’re having a lot of personal conversation regarding work ethic and resiliency,” she said.
Donels also reported the high school is working with UNI through grant funds to utilize their advanced students who are taking courses in mental health services. “We’re going to have more students on the list for these services than we can provide for,” she said.
David Milder, middle school principal, said staff members are developing relationships with students and working to improve attendance through “Capturing Kids’ Hearts,” SEL programs, and positive classroom environments.
Elementary Principal Kyle Steffen reported 100% parental attendance for Student Assistance Team meetings. He said Community Walk and Talks have begun where community members come in and “walk” with a student while developing beneficial relationships.
Athletic Director Dave Mason spoke to the board about a proposal to start a middle school baseball program that would serve as a feeder program for the high school team.
Mason said Davis County is the only school in the conference that doesn’t already have middle school baseball, though none of the other conference schools have a Babe Ruth program in the community.
The program could co-exist with Babe Ruth baseball, Mason said, and would begin as the Babe Ruth season ends. Practices would start in May and games would be scheduled in June. Mason estimates about 30 kids would participate.
“I don’t want anyone to think we’re trying to get rid of the Babe Ruth program,” Maeder warned as he asked about the potential for conflict.
The proposal will be on the board’s February agenda.
In other action, the board:
• approved an extension to a leave of absence.
• approved a salary class change for the head cross country coach.
• approved Chance Fleming as an early graduate through the online program.