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Bickleton gears up for four-day school week

BICKLETON - An effort to reign in expenses has prompted the Bickleton School District to switch to a four-day school week, with Fridays off.

The move takes effect Jan. 25, 2010 with the start of the second semester.

Superintendent Ric Palmer said the district has been working towards the four-day week for about two and a half years.

State legislation adopted earlier this year paved the way for the shortened school week, allowing small, rural school districts to seek waivers from the typical 180-day school year.

Palmer noted that even with Fridays off, the school district's students will have 1,150 hours in the classroom each school year, well above the 1,000 state-mandated minimum.

Bickleton students will see their school day start 20 minutes earlier and end 20 minutes later once the new schedule begins next month.

Palmer figures the district should save about $54,000 annually with the move, though it won't know for sure until the system is in place.

The savings means the school district will be able to retain its three para-pros who also serve as bus drivers. Palmer said the district's success in math and reading is in part due to the quality time students have with para-pros in the classrooms.

Palmer did note that the para-pros will lose about 3.5 hours of pay each week, but will retain all of their medical benefits.

Teachers, he added, will still need to be at school two Fridays each month to maintain standards.

With only 85 students in the K-12 school district, Palmer said the district will see right away how the four-day week impacts student learning. He noted the example of the Corbett School District in Corbett, Ore. that has found student learning improved with the shortened week.

Palmer emphasized that students will actually have more time in the classroom with teachers under the new arrangement. With the five-day week, he said classroom instruction is interrupted by students leaving for field trips or to travel for sporting events.

That's going to change in Bickleton, with Fridays being designated for field trips in sports. Palmer said it shouldn't be too difficult to change game nights from mid-week to Fridays as one of Bickleton's league foes, Lyle, also switches to a four-day week next month.

He said dates for games against Lower Valley schools likely will not be changed because of reduced travel time.

The situation is a win-win for Bickleton, as the school district also holds the option to switch back to a five-day week if it doesn't help trim costs or student learning.

Bickleton, Lyle and the Patterson school districts are part of a pilot project by the state that will allow the districts to use a four-day week for up to two more school years after this one.

Another benefit, Palmer noted, is that Fridays will now be freed up for Bickleton's high school juniors and seniors to pursue work-to-school programs with industries in the area. The program provides school credit and some wages for the students. It had not previously been available in the Bickleton School District.

Palmer said one of the questions the district first addressed with the move is the impact on students being at home on Fridays.

That shouldn't be a problem for this close-knit community, he said.

"There are very few kids who do not have an older brother or sister, an aunt, uncle, grandparents or both parents available," Palmer said. "That's Bickleton."

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