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Several Texas Districts to Try 4-Day Hybrid School Week

Lumberton Independent School District is the latest east Texas district to approve a four-day hybrid school calendar for 2023-24, hoping to alleviate issues with mental health, attendance and substitute fill rates.

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(TNS) — Lumberton ISD is the latest school district in Texas to move to a four-day hybrid school week.

The school board voted Thursday night 5-2 to approve a four-day hybrid school calendar for the 2023-24 school year.

The decision comes after almost three months of discussion on the issue which entailed two board meetings and a late-February workshop session.

Board President James Kersh, Vice President Kevin Edwards, Secretary Kimberly Olexa and members Chad Hammett, Brett Yarbro voted for the new model while board members Lauren Rothe and Sharon Spears voted against.

Olexa said it was one of the hardest decisions she's had to make as a trustee, but that the data spoke for itself.

Hammett agreed with Olexa, adding that he was glad the district could include parents, teachers and staff and community members in the process.

Kersh said the process has been difficult and hard on the board and administration and that he appreciated input from everyone, noting that he wasn't totally sure if this move is the right or wrong answer for Lumberton ISD.

Neither Rothe nor Spears made a comment directly following the vote.

Of four public comments made at Thursday's meeting, two were by students who opposed the proposed hybrid calendar.

One Lumberton High School junior, representing a coalition of students against the calendar, said he felt that change would add more stress to school days that are already rushed.

"We can hardly achieve what we need to do in a regular five-day (week)," he said, adding that many student athletes will be at a disadvantage, particularly during spring, when many have tournaments during the week, which would take them out of the class an additional day.

Another student, a Lumberton High School senior, said he was concerned for students who have special needs and rely on the regimen of a five-day week, as well as students who may come from abusive households, who already dread going home. The second student also said he felt the change would rush teachers and students alike in completing curriculum.

"The same thing happens every year — we get to the (middle of the spring semester) and (our) teachers tell us 'We're behind,'" the senior said. "Every year we skip stuff that is deemed not as necessary...we're already running behind as it is."

THE REASON WHY



Lumberton ISD is hoping the change will help the district address issues its facing, particularly with staff and student mental and physical health; staff and student attendance; substitute fill rates; providing staff more work-life balance; energy savings; enabling transportation availability for extracurricular events; and allow the district to be competitive in recruiting and retaining staff members.

That last point, recruiting and retaining staff members, appears to be the main driver behind Lumberton's push for the hybrid calendar with Superintendent Tony Tipton saying at the district's January board meeting at teachers asked the district to consider the change.

In the intensive study presented to the school board and community members Feb. 28 — content from which can be found on lumbertonisd.org under "About Us" and "Lumberton ISD Calendar" — the district said 60 percent of 155 its teachers surveyed in 2022 reported "seriously considered leaving the profession," up 19 percent from a 2021 survey. Moreover, 93 percent of those teachers responded that they have taken "active steps toward leaving."

Last school year, the district reported around 50 teacher resignations, slightly down from the year prior, but around double from the 2019-20 school year. Overall, the district saw just under 150 total staff resignations last year, up significantly from the just over 50 it reported in 2020-21.

In a survey of the district's 576 staff members, 77 percent participated including 289 teachers and 154 other district employees. Overall, 78.8 percent of responding staff supported the hybrid calendar, compared to 21.2 percent who did not. Just over 230 teachers supported the change along with 117 other staff members.

Fridays were chosen as the day off as opposed to Monday for a variety of reasons, including Fridays being scarce for substitute teachers and students missing instructional time due to Friday extracurricular travel, among other issues, according to the study.

Results from other districts across the state that have also made the change are promising based on their Texas Education Agency accountability ratings. Of the 16 districts presented, including Region 5's Liberty ISD and nearby Devers ISD, six saw a letter grade increase from their 2019 rating to the most recent 2022 rating. Nine remained at the same letter grade and one dropped four points from an A to a B rating.

Lumberton ISD earned a B rating in 2022, according to the Texas Education Agency.

HERE'S WHAT WILL CHANGE



The change amounts to a few key differences. Under the new hybrid, four-day week calendar, students will attend school for 168 day compared to 172 traditionally, having 20 Fridays off. Ten minutes of instructional time will be added to each school day and students will begin the academic year one week earlier than normal on Aug. 3.

The change will also decrease teacher/aide/nurse/librarian work days from 187 to 180, however there will be no reduction in pay to any employees. The new calendar reduces the amount of Christmas Break vacation days from 12 to 9 and eliminates the district's Winter Break. Spring Break will remain five days off in March.

In past discussions of the issue in Lumberton and in other school districts where a four-day hybrid calendar has been introduced, such as Jasper ISD, one central concern amongst parents has been childcare support for days when students are out of school even though parents are working.

Under the current traditional calendar, there are 43 days in which Lumberton ISD working parents need childcare during the school year, according to the intensive study. With the new calendar, two days will be added, totaling 45 days that childcare support will be needed.

According to a survey of Lumberton ISD parents conducted by the district, from 1,097 responses, 58.2 percent supported the four-day hybrid calendar, compared to 41.8 percent who did not.

At just over 4,200 students, Lumberton is one of the few districts its size making the change to a four-day hybrid calendar, though it noted that "more and more districts" of its size are adopting the new model.

Lumberton joins other Region 5 districts including Colmesneil, Jasper, Liberty and West Hardin County Consolidated ISDs in making the switch from a traditional, five-day school week calendar.

Start and end times for each of the district's campuses are tentative and not part of the instructional calendar.

©2023 the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.