Ohio school district goes to 4-day week to ‘save’ burned out teachers
Students discuss what surprised them most about hybrid learning
Students and educators discuss what surprised them the most about virtual and hybrid learning.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY
In an effort to support teachers, a small school district outside Cincinnati has become the first in the state to go to a four-day week for in-person learning, the district superintendent said.
The North College Hill City Schools District Board of Education voted unanimously last week to adopt the blended learning model.
Beginning Aug. 15, students will attend school in person Tuesday through Friday. On Mondays, those students will have schoolwork to complete, but that work will be self-directed.
Students will not attend classes or lectures online on Mondays, though some of the schoolwork may need to be completed online, and parents are not being asked to provide any direct instruction. Teachers will be in school on Mondays to plan their week, review data and pursue professional development.
The district joins a growing movement toward shorter school weeks across the country. Brookings Institute research shows they’ve grown in popularity over the past two decades. An analysis published shortly before the pandemic found at least 662 districts across two dozen states with four-day weeks.
More: More schools are opting for four-day weeks. Here’s what you need to know
‘They’re just tired’
In Ohio, he district superintendent, Eugene Blalock, said this past school year has been toughest of his career when it comes to his staff.
“You look in their eyes and they’re just tired,” he said.
Bordering Cincinnati, the city of North College Hill has a population of just under 10,000. The school district has about 1,400 students in pre-K through 12th grade and 150 teachers.
Blalock said his staff is suffering from burnout like many other teaching staffs around the country. There aren’t enough substitute teachers, so staff teachers are constantly covering for one another, which leaves them no time to plan or prepare.
“We know our teachers are underpaid and undervalued,” the superintendent said. “We’ve assumed for the past 200 or 300 years that this is how education is. The pandemic showed us we can do things differently.”
Addressing the barriers
Blalock said parents, community members and teachers were all surveyed and a majority were either in favor of the decision or neutral about it.
He said he is not ignoring the barriers for some families. He is working to provide some limited childcare support for younger students on Mondays and plans to send home food for students that need it.
But Blalock emphasized that he expects this change to benefit students as well. Now, many of them are not getting the full benefit of a teacher who is well-prepared and well-supported, he said, adding that the blended model will give students teachers who are working at 100%.
He said older students will also have a chance to pursue opportunities outside of school. Blalock said he is working to create job-shadowing programs and eventually internship opportunities students can take advantage of on Mondays.
Change won’t save much money, but could ‘save’ teachers
Blalock said he expects this change to be a “wash” financially. He said if North College Hill were a bigger district with more facilities and buses, there could be some serious savings, but North College Hill is a walking district.
He said the district might save some money it would have spent hiring substitute teachers.
But the goal, Blalock said, is increasing teacher retention and recruitment. North College Hill cannot compete with wealthier districts on pay, he said, so he hopes the schedule will help attract new talent.
Learn more: How much time do kids spend in school? It depends on where they live.
“It was not about saving money, it was more about saving teachers and saving the profession and doing something different to help students,” he said.
When surveyed, North College Hill teachers reported they wanted more time and a better work-life balance.
“Time trumped money,” Blalock said.
What is blended learning?
The Ohio Department of Education has guidelines for blended learning.
According to Ohio law, the model means students are instructed both in-person outside of the home and online in a way where the student has some control over the path and pace of learning.
Blended learning models differ from remote learning models, which include teacher instruction via online conferencing systems. Districts must declare they are using a blended model before the school year begins.
The Ohio Department of Education lists dozens of schools that have declared the use of a blended model. Many online and virtual school options offered by districts fall under this category, but Blalock says he’s excited for his district to pilot this new approach.
He said there are some districts in the Western United States that are operating this way, and that he has already heard from multiple administrators around the state who told him they would be watching closely.
Contributing: USA TODAY reporter Alia Wong