The bell will ring August 5 for the Athens 2019 school year. The sound of children will echo through the halls with new school supplies, uniforms and some parents of new preschoolers leaving their babies for the first time. Teachers will finally get to show off their hard work decorating classrooms and reveal their game-plan for the new year.
This year will be different for the Athens ISD, as it is the first year of a new three year pilot program starting a four day school week. The first school to implement the program in Texas was the Olfen ISD near San Angelo; Athens will be one of the few public schools in the state of Texas to implement this program. Other Texas schools who have made the leap are Dime Box, West Texas and Devers ISD
Superintendent Blake Stiles said in a press release that it is the goal of Athens ISD to “graduate every student college and work ready” an ambitious goal that the district feels will be more easily attained with the best instructors and opportunities available to them.
The district expressed that in spite of the many questions and concerns raised by the new venture, that after much deliberation the benefits seem to outweigh the risks.
Athens will be gaining 60 plus new teachers this year. Despite some other districts in the area being able to provide larger salaries the extra time for family, lesson planning, and staff development have provided a big draw to new teachers.
The four-day calendar is being used as the initial draw to the district but also a retention tool for quality educators.
“We know that nothing benefits student learning in the classroom more than excellent instruction, and the early data indicates our goal is being met. Sixty-eight percent of the district's new hires for the coming school year are educators with four or more years of experience. Last year, that same demographic was at 36 percent. That’s not to suggest we don’t value our newer teachers; we certainly do. But teachers who really know the ropes are better able to adapt to a new district and offer the benefits of their experience to other teachers,” Toni Clay, Athens ISD communications coordinator, said.
Four-day school weeks reportedly lessen behavior issues, absences and increase graduation rates.
Athens ISD says that the decision for a four day week had no impact, positive or negative, financially.
The new proposal raised several concerns. Working parents have to find child care for younger children on Fridays as well. What about the children who only get to eat at school, or the school lunch is their main meal of the day?
“Athens ISD is always looking for ways to serve our families. One way we’re able to show that care is to serve lunch on Fridays from 11 to 11:30 at Central Athens Elementary. The meals are available to all of our students, not just those on free or reduced lunch. After we’ve had the program in place for a time, we’ll evaluate to see how well it is utilized. On a somewhat related note, because the days are longer, we’re also committed to providing daily snacks for our students, pre-K through 12,” Clay said.
As far as working parents and child care the school suggests finding the same options as utilized for holidays and summer break. According to the release: “A few local organizations have offered discounted rates for schedules impacted by the four-day week. For those specific names, please call the District Support Center at 677-6900”
Since the four-day week and TVCC both will occur Monday to Thursday, the program will is not expected to affect the Early College High School Program. Sporting events and transportation to and from on Fridays will proceed as it normally has.
The year will be one of many firsts for both children and staff alike. As the year gets started more questions and new challenges may come up, but parents can contact their school for more information or with any questions.
“The surest way to success is through a shared vision and mutual trust that we seek the very best for our children. Together, we can and must achieve great things,” Superintendent Stiles said.