Natchez schools could consider four-day weeks to ‘remain competitive’

Published 12:15 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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NATCHEZ — While Concordia Parish School Board is having employee and community conversations about four-day school weeks, Natchez schools may not be far behind.

Natchez Adams School District, like other school districts across the region, is in competition for hiring and retaining teachers.

This week, Concordia Parish School Officials began a series of Town Hall events to receive public input on the topic of starting four-day school weeks like surrounding parishes, including LaSalle, Grant, Winn, Avoyelles, Caldwell, Franklin and Catahoula.

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Concordia School officials aim to have a plan in place for the next school year. Their student calendar is due to the Louisiana Department of Education on March 30.

During the Tuesday meeting of the Natchez-Adams school board, NASD Superintendent Zandra McDonald Green said she is well aware that these discussions are taking place in the parish.

“We are aware our neighbors in Concordia Parish are considering a four-day workweek and we understand that we have to remain competitive in this area,” she said. “You all have seen the flyers for our school district. They are looking for a number of employees. We want to be able to retain our certified and highly qualified teachers but we also want to make sure they’re not overwhelmed, overburdened and overtasked.”

At the same time, Green said the Natchez school district is not quite ready to “jump on the bandwagon” and immediately begin transitioning to a four-day week, adding certain conversations need to be had first.

Both departments of education in Louisiana and Mississippi have in-person classroom instructional requirements that schools have to meet each academic year.

According to the accreditation requirements listed by the Mississippi Department of Education, an academic year should provide “a minimum of 180 teaching days in which both teachers and pupils are in regular attendance for scheduled classroom instruction. Any request for an exception to this standard must be submitted in writing to the Commission on School Accreditation for review and action.”

Natchez Adams School District currently has 180 instructional days for students and the academic year spans from late July 2023 to June 5, 2024.

The state also requires a minimum of 330 in-person instructional minutes each school day.

“We currently provide 420,” Green said. “I’m not quite sure what the guidelines are from the state department, but before we’d even consider (a four-day week) we’d have to find that information.”

The first of a series of meetings called “My Voice, My NASD Community Conversations” started on Jan. 30 with school officials meeting with parents and community stakeholders in the district.

Green said the next meetings scheduled for Feb. 26 and 28 would be for teachers and employees.

“This will be an opportunity for them to work with us to give us their feedback on what they actually want to see happen,” she said. “We can assume but we want to hear it from them. …  We understand (teachers) are tasked with a number of responsibilities as we continue to respond to unfinished learning and learning loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want … to gather their input on how we can be more creative with the use of our time and what tasks we could consider removing from the teacher’s responsibilities. We want to listen to our employees’ concerns.”

Green said that in an employee satisfaction survey, one of the things teachers requested most was more time to prepare without students in the classroom so they could be ready when students are in the classroom.

To give teachers that time, “We’ve researched creative ideas that other districts have done and we will bring all of this to the table,” Green said. “This won’t be the last time we are convening. As we are planning for the next school year, we want to present those options to our teachers but we don’t want to jump on the bandwagon and say we’re going to a four-day workweek.

“I believe a four-day workweek is something that we have to plan for as a community, not just a district. If we can do something in the interim that is helpful to our teachers, it may be a long-term idea or goal that we’re considering. But we want to make sure we start those conversations. We (as a school district) shouldn’t have to be overly concerned about childcare, but as citizens of this community, we do have to be concerned.”