IRENE, S.D. - When the nearly 300 students of the Irene-Wakonda School District returned to school this week, they found a lot of old friends, teachers, and familiar routines awaiting them. But one thing was missing: Friday classes.
This district in the rolling farmland of southeastern South Dakota is among the latest to adopt a four-day school week as the best option for reducing costs and dealing with state budget cuts to education.
“It got down to monetary reasons more than anything else,’’ Superintendent Larry Johnke said. The $50,000 savings will preserve a vocational education program that otherwise would have been scrapped.
The four-day school week is an increasingly visible example of the impact of state budget problems on rural education. This fall, fully one-fourth of South Dakota’s districts will have moved to some form of the abbreviated schedule. Only Colorado and Wyoming have a larger proportion of schools using a shortened week. According to one study, more than 120 school districts in 20 states, most in the west, now use four-day weeks.
The schools insist that reducing class time is better than the alternatives and can be done without sacrificing academic performance. Yet not all parents are convinced.
The downsizing comes as schools in some larger cities are moving in the opposite direction. In Chicago, school officials hope to add school days so students will learn more and have better employment prospects.
Melody Schopp, South Dakota’s state education secretary, says schools that have switched to four days haven’t suffered in achievement tests.