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Missoula's Target Range School District debates 4-day week

Target Range School
Target Range 4 day notice
GFX Four Day School Week
Heather Davis Schmidt
Ryan Delany
Posted at 8:00 AM, Feb 08, 2023

MISSOULA - Superintendent Dr. Heather Davis Schmidt came to Target Range School District three years ago and since then, the school has not had a single, fully staffed day.

The independent school district in Missoula has been brainstorming ways to encourage teacher recruitment and retention. Their idea: a four-day school week. This isn’t a novel idea, in fact, 175 schools in Montana were operating on a four-day week during the 2020-21 school year.

GFX Four Day School Week

For Target Range, a short workweek could be a competitive edge against other schools.

“If we are going to be able to recruit and retain quality teachers, we have to be competitive, not only with the school districts surrounding us in terms of salary and benefits but also with other jobs,” Schmidt said.

Schools with a four-day week are still required to maintain the same annual number of educational hours for their students. For example, 720 hours are required for full-time kindergarten programs and grades 1 through 3, and 1,080 hours are required for grades 4 through 12.

This means Target Range School would have longer school days and less transition times. But they shouldn’t have a problem meeting these requirements, according to Schmidt.

Heather Davis Schmidt
Target Range School Superintendent Dr. Heather Davis Schmidt says since she came to the district three years ago the school has not had a single, fully staffed day.

One of the biggest problems at Target Range is the lack of paraeducators and support staff who look after students with special needs, give teachers extra support in the classroom and offer extra attention to students who are falling behind.

Paraeducators are very important to a successful school day, according to Schmidt, and having a shortage has been difficult.

“Not being fully staffed with paraeducators means that we don’t have the supports we need in any of our classrooms on a daily basis for teachers to do their best work and get the best learning outcomes for students,” she says.

Support staff members are paid hourly, but it is hard to give them a competitive wage because of a lack of funding. A four-day workweek would mean these employees could earn more per hour.

Target Range 4 day notice
A sign explaining the proposed change to the school week hangs on the door at Target Range School on Feb. 7. It includes links to more information and the upcoming small group sessions.

“We are not competitive with our paraeducator salary to people working in the Mcdonald's drive-thru, not even close to competitive,” Schmidt said. “So, one of the things this would allow us to do is increase the hourly wage of our support staff.”

These employees would make the same yearly amount but work fewer hours.

Target Range does not receive the same funding as other schools in the area with Schmidt explaining that, typically, schools receive $12,000 per student, but Target Range only receives $9,300.

A smaller amount of funding means teachers can’t always receive raises, but a shorter work week is a benefit the administration can give them instead.

None of them got into the business of teaching to make lots of money. They get into the profession because they love kids, they love teaching,” Schmidt said. “What they’ve articulated is that time is what is most important, and this is a way that we can restructure time in a meaningful way for our teachers. And in doing so, we hope to recruit more teachers, to recruit more paraeducators.”

Ryan Delany
"So, my reaction was, like everyone else’s, mixed,” Target Range social studies teacher Ryan Delany said. “I think that we see the pros and cons of going to a four-day workweek.”

Target Range social studies teacher Ryan Delany says he was hesitant to get on board with a shorter week.

“So, my reaction was, like everyone else’s, mixed,” he said. “I think that we see the pros and cons of going to a four-day workweek.”

Delany says he understands why parents would be anxious about finding childcare on Fridays.

“Probably the biggest con is the Friday childcare. I’ve got kids at Target Range School, I’ve thought about it myself, I have empathy for people who do work 9-5 Monday through Friday, and that Friday day could be a challenge.”

Still, Delany says he is for the transition in order to hire more staff and gain more work time.

“I think that if people in the community could see that Target Range School is doing a four-day workweek, people would be enticed to come out here and work.”

Despite initial hesitation from staff, Schmidt says about 80% of her teachers now want to transition to a shorter week.

“We really need to ensure, for the long term, sustainability of our public education system that we don’t burn our teachers out.”

The school will hold small group discussions on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 where parents can ask questions and offer suggestions to the administration. The proposal will then be brought to the board of trustees at the meeting on March 13.

The Montana education code for school term, day and week states:

“The trustees of a school district shall set the number of days in a school term, the length of the school day, and the number of school days in a school week and report them to the superintendent of public instruction…. (and that the board shall) solicit input from the employees affected by the changes but not represented by a collective bargaining agreement; and solicit input from the people who live within the boundaries of the school district.”

MTN News is interested in hearing opinions from families in school districts currently implementing a four-day school week. If you have a child in one of these schools, please email your thoughts to news@kpax.com.