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Independence Schools Superintendent links spike in job applicants to 4-day school week

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Two men sit at a large, wooden commission desk. Between them is a large sign on the wall that reads "ISD, Inspiring Greatness, Independence School Board."
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Independence School Superintendent Dale Herl and School Board President Eric Knipp listen to public comments before the board voted to implement a four-day school week.

The Independence school board voted in December to adopt a four-day school week starting next school year, leaving some parents concerned and frustrated. But since the change was announced, school officials say teaching applications have increased exponentially.

Students in Missouri's Independence School District will have a shorter school week starting in the 2023-2024 school year. The decision comes after a 6 to 1 school board vote in December.

One quarter of Missouri school districts use the four-day school week model — citing labor shortages and challenges recruiting and retaining teachers. Independence is the largest district so far to make the switch.

Since the change was announced, the district has seen a surge in job applicants.

Superintendent Dale Herl says they've received 117 teacher applications since the school board approved the transition, compared to only 22 to teacher applications one year ago.

"That's a 530% increase," Herl says.

But not everyone has embraced the change. The districted surveyed the families of its nearly 14,000 students about the possible transition to a shorter week in October 2022. Only 21% of families surveyed responded.

Wendy Baird, a parent of two children in the Independence School District says she's struggling to see how the shorter educational instruction week benefits teachers.

"I believe it is a shiny wrapping paper on an empty box," Baird says. "I think our school district and education in general can go much farther."

"I do not believe that our Board of Education has asked our teachers, 'what would make you stay in ISD, what would make you stay in education.'"

Teachers will be paid the same and have the same workload. Herl says those things are much harder for a district to change without action from the state legislature.

"We have a systemic issue, which requires a systemic solution," says Herl. "And this has been shown in other school districts to help attract and retain not just teachers but other employees as well."

Students will receive educational instruction Tuesday through Friday. The school day will also be extended by 40 minutes, so the district’s total instruction time remains the same despite the fewer school days.

On Mondays the district will offer activities, tutoring and childcare services. Meals will be provided to students attending the Learning League, an educational opportunity for students falling below grade level, and Herl says the district has been in contact with Harvesters to provide additional take-home meals.

Herl and Baird joined Up To Date to discuss the transition to a four-day school week. More information about the district's four-day school week can be found here.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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