Grapeland ISD Votes for Four-Day Week
By Greg Ritchie
GRAPELAND – The Grapeland Independent School Board (GISD) voted Monday, Feb. 6 to run a one-year trial run of a four-day school week in a 5-2 vote. The district released their 2023-2024 calendar calling on educators to consider the district as an option for employment.
It was a long journey for GISD to come to the decision – with Superintendent Don Jackson himself originally skeptical of the idea. Then followed consultations with board members, Jackson researching the effectiveness of the four-day week at other districts, public hearings and debate on the matter before the vote.
GISD will begin the next school year with a normal five-day week for the first nine weeks before transitioning to the four-day schedule. Jackson said recruiting and retaining good teachers may have been what tipped the scale for the board’s decision.
“I think the difference was the board saw it is a good recruiting tool,” Jackson said. “With the teacher shortage we have – that everybody’s dealing with – everybody’s working to attract teachers. We do a lot of stuff – we put in a daycare for teachers, we give a retention stipend and a holiday stipend – all to attract and keep good teachers.”
Jackson explained the schedule GISD will adapt is innovative in certain ways. Many schools vote to try the four-day week for three years, while Grapeland chose a one-year trial. The schools will be on a normal schedule until about the time of the annual Peanut Festival when they begin the new schedule. The district will also never have a three-day week, with classes being held Fridays whenever there is a Monday holiday.
There are still issues to be resolved, although the district has time to work through those. Athletics, FFA, band and other extra-curricular activities and schedules will need to be worked out. Feeding kids who need it on Fridays is another hurdle. Organizing extra-help classes or daycare on Fridays will depend on a survey of parents to see how many families are interested in those activities so the district can get them planned and staffed.
Jackson acknowledged COVID has changed many things, including how people work and he said if the district is to be competitive it must offer the same work options other school districts have begun to offer.
One of the concerns with the four-day week would be each day is a little longer – which might be harder on the youngest students. Jackson said there are already discussions on how to make sure the kids don’t tire or lose their focus without sacrificing those precious minutes. Breaks will be more frequent but they will not be complete breaks from learning.
“The breaks they do give them will be working breaks,” Jackson explained. “We are not going to stop and have recess two or three times a day, it will be a lower intensity break while still working and learning.”
The new schedule will be implemented without Jackson whose last day will be somewhere near the end of March after a new superintendent is chosen. Jackson said there are several candidates who will be considered with several rounds of interviews through February before a final candidate is chosen. Jackson admitted the process has been a fast one since he announced his retirement at the beginning of 2023.
“It’s moving quick,” Jackson said of the process to find his replacement. “I am definitely excited for Grapeland. The average for a superintendent in this district is less than three years. And I am in my sixth. So I feel I have been blessed. It’s just somebody else’s time to take us a little further.”
Jackson said he will be available for the new superintendent but understands whoever takes the job will need their space and time to adjust and make the job their own. Jackson himself is already thinking of that last day now less than two months away and was very clear when asked what he will miss most.
“I will miss the kids in Grapeland. What makes my day is when I walk around our campuses and they call me by name, ‘Hey, Mr. Jackson!’ Those three words, ‘Hey, Mr. Jackson.’ They know who I am. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Jackson concluded.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]