This West Valley district has a 4-day school week to help keep teachers

front of Cartwright School District building, This West Valley district has a 4-day school week to help keep teachers

The Cartwright School District office in Phoenix, Arizona.

By Robert Gundran

January 31, 2024

A West Valley school district is all-in on a 4-day school week.

How does a three-day weekend sound? How about every weekend? That’s a major selling point that Dr. Joy Weiss, principal at the Bret R. Tarver Leadership Academy, is pushing in her efforts to recruit teachers to work at her school.

The Cartwright School District (CSD) in Phoenix adopted the four-day school week for students in the 2020-21 school year, then expanded it to a four-day work week for teachers in the 2023-24 school year. That makes nine school districts across Maricopa County that have adopted the four-day school week as of the 2023-24 school year (see the list at the bottom of this story).

The shift in policy was meant to help with two metrics, according to Weiss: attendance rates for students and the retention and recruitment of teachers. That’s key in a state where schools have widely been struggling with teacher vacancies.

“So one of [the benefits] has been teacher recruitment,” Weiss said. “One of the biggest things that I’ve been able to do here, and I know other principals have as well, is we’re able to draw from a larger pool base and attract even out-of-state teachers.”

A September 2023 report from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) showed that, of the 131 school districts and charter schools that responded, 29.7% of teacher vacancies across the state remained unfilled heading into this school year.

“Arizona children deserve the best teachers and a stable workforce,” the report reads. “The shortage of educators directly impacts the quality of education students receive. Larger class sizes, reduced individualized attention, and limited extracurricular opportunities are just a few of the consequences students face as a result of this crisis.”

Could four-day work weeks be the fix that Arizona has been looking for?

 

Filling vacancies

Weiss said the transition to a four-day work week in CSD has been a smooth one.

“I think it’s going well,” said Weiss. “We’re used to it from the student side. So on the staff side, it really was just adjusting [when] we did different things.”

It’s too early to know how CSD and other districts with four-day weeks have fared in recruitment compared to other schools statewide, but anecdotally, Weiss has noticed that the plan has helped broaden the school’s pool of applicants to teachers outside of Arizona.

“This year I recruited [a teacher] out of Minnesota,” Weiss said. “I grabbed two [teachers] from out of state and three from out of the country using the four-day model as the attractive piece.”

The three international teachers to come to CSD were from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.

Weiss said another benefit to the extra day off is attendance rates.

Teachers and students can schedule appointments for Fridays, now—which means teachers don’t need to take personal days and students don’t need to miss valuable instruction time for a trip to the doctor or dentist.

“We can be more attentive Monday through Thursday, knowing that we have Fridays to take care of those needs,” Weiss said. “So there has been an improved attendance rate for staff as well.”

She acknowledged that an extra day off each week can be stressful for parents who work the standard Monday through Friday business week, and need to plan childcare for Fridays. But, she said, parents know about the short week when enrolling their students—and they seem pretty happy with the alternative schedule.

“Several of our families have access to and utilize the Boys and Girls Club on Fridays,” Weiss said. “A lot of our families adjust shifts. So maybe one parent works a day shift, and one works a night. It provides that opportunity for someone to be home with kids.”

One extra day off doesn’t mean teachers and students are working and studying less, either. The school days have been extended to compensate for the short week—30 minutes for students, and one or two hours for teachers, according to Weiss.

“All of those things get tightened and we’re really focused because we have four days to do it,” Weiss said. “It’s just very focused. Schedules are very tight and we work hard for four days and enjoy three days off.”

It hasn’t yet been a full school year, but Weiss said she’d recommend the short week to other districts, adding that CSD is fully committed to the policy.

A caveat she gave was administrators and educational leaders need to make sure they’re getting everyone’s input and making sure everybody is on the same page—that includes talking to staff, parents, the local community, and the district office.

Weiss said she’d spoken with a lot of people about the short week and needed to remind them to keep an open mind about change.

“I think we’ve learned a lot and we learned a lot in education during the pandemic about how schools and students and families can adjust and pivot and change in today’s world,” she said. “So I think there is always room for growth and change in education.”

 

READ MORE: Showdown imminent between Hobbs and Republican legislators over school vouchers

 

Here are the school districts in Maricopa County that operate using the four-day school week as of the 2023-24 school year:

  • Arlington Elementary District (Arlington)
  • Cartwright Elementary District (Phoenix)
  • Gila Bend Unified District (Gila Bend)
  • Liberty Elementary District (Liberty, Buckeye, Goodyear)
  • Morristown Elementary District (Morristown)
  • Nadaburg Unified District (Wittmann)
  • Palo Verde Elementary District (Palo Verde)
  • Saddle Mountain Unified District (Tonopah, Buckeye, Wintersburg)
  • Wickenburg Unified District (Wickenburg)

 

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Author

  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

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