Friends of King charter group to move to four-day school week

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The 2019-2020 Friends of King school calendar eliminates Mondays from the school week.

The Friends of King charter school network will be moving its to New Orleans schools to a four-day week beginning this fall, according to a 2019-2020 school calendar obtained by The Lens. The calendar removes Mondays from the school week, adding extra class time during the remaining four days.

The calendar is marked “proposed,” but  Friends of King board minutes from March say that the network “will implement” the four-day calendar this fall.

Asked for clarification, Friends of King attorney Tracie Washington wrote, “That’s the final calendar.”

Some Louisiana school districts are already using the four-day model, while others, including Orleans Parish Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.’s old district of East Feliciana Parish, tried it and ditched it. Charter schools are allowed to set their own calendars.

Advocates of the shorter week say it can save on operating costs, like busing and utilities, and that it attracts teachers. Critics worry the schedule can create complications for working parents who must find an extra day of child care.

Friends of King oversees the 1,016-student Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Science and Technology and 377-student Joseph A. Craig Charter School.

The East Feliciana Parish school district switched to a four-day week in the 2007-08 school year. But Lewis added the fifth-day back for the 2013-14 school year. He estimated it would cost the roughly 1,700-student district $150,000 each year, according to The Advocate. At the time, The Advocate also reported Lewis hoped it would improve student test scores and help with the transition to higher standards being implemented by the state.

Martin Luther King Charter School is now rated a C by the state. Craig is rated an F.

The Orleans Parish school district is apparently not taking a position on Friends of King’s plan. The Louisiana Department of Education doesn’t track whether school districts use a four- or five-day calendar. The state’s instructional requirements are based on a minimum number of minutes, not days. The Orleans Parish school district also does not track the matter.

“As long as a Charter Management Organization can meet the required instructional minutes per school year, the organization can determine its own calendar and schedule,” district Communications Director Tania Dall wrote in an email to The Lens.

In an updated statement on Thursday, Dall wrote that the district contacted all families who have been newly placed in a Friends of King school during the last round of OneApp, the district’s enrollment lottery, as well as those who have applied for the upcoming round, to let them know about the change.

“When the OPSB administration learned of this potential change we met with the Friends of King team to understand the impact on families, students and staff. While the organization has the right to make this decision, we continue to be mindful of the impact on families,” Dall wrote. “Our accountability office has also verified that the school has notified all of the current families. “

Friends of King would add an hour to its elementary school students’ day. They would attend school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. High school students would go an extra 15 minutes in the afternoon.

In other parts of the state, Avoyelles Parish, about 140 miles northwest of New Orleans, is moving to a four-day school week this fall. And Caldwell Parish already runs on that calendar.

The Vermillion Parish School Board discussed moving to a four-day week earlier this month. In the 9,260-student district, its Superintendent Jerome Puyau told The Lens he estimated the district would save two- to five-percent on utility costs and diesel fuel, but he said he would not recommend the switch to his board.

“The potential savings are between $54,000 and $135,000,” he wrote in an email. However, he noted the district would lose about $1 million in federal child nutrition funding because it would be serving fewer meals to its students.

Once a district makes the decision to drop a day, the next choice is whether to eliminate Mondays or Fridays.

Avoyelles Parish is eliminating Mondays in its 2019-2020 calendar.

Two Oklahoma educators — where the four-day week has taken off in the face of statewide budget cuts — praised the four-day week in a column for Education Week. They advocated for Fridays off.

“For example, we are no longer losing hours of instruction time to Friday athletic absences,” they wrote. “We have also noticed a morale boost within the culture of our schools from an additional day each week for personal and professional planning.”

Friends of King did not respond to questions asking why it’s considering the switch.

This story was updated after publication to include additional comments from the Orleans Parish school district.

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