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Prairie details four-day school week plans to community

Danielle O'Brien, assistant principal at Prairie Elementary, addressed questions from the community about the four-day school week proposal. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

Prairie Elementary administrators and Billings County School Board members held a quick community meeting Tuesday night to discuss the county's possible change to a four-day school week.

"I thought it went good," said Danielle O'Brien, assistant principal of Prairie Elementary. "There were some really good questions from the community. I thought the committee was prepared to answer the questions and give everybody the information that they need and should have in order to properly vote on what they feel is important."

They provided attendees with the proposed school calendar for next year.

"We really tried to solidify a schedule because we felt that if we were going to propose to the community a four-day, then they should have a clear vision of what that would actually look like instead of saying 'We could do this...,'" she said.

Under the proposed schedule, students will still attend 13 Fridays per school year. To make sure that the school meets state requirements for the number of instructional hours students must have without extending the school year, the school kept some of its Friday school days, mostly in the beginning of the school year. Also, during the weeks in which a holiday falls on a Monday and school is out, the students will go to school on Friday.

Prairie's daily schedule will change, as well. Fifteen minutes will be added to the beginning and end of the day, making the schedule from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

O'Brien compared the length of time the students would be in school to those elementary students in nearby K-12 schools. Prairie's kids would be going to school eight minutes longer than Belfield's elementary kids and 12 minutes longer than South Heart's.

"To put it into perspective a little bit, other schools like K-12 schools, they have an extended day in comparison to ourselves right now," she said in the meeting. "High school students have more hours in their day, in their year. So Belfield, who has K-12, their elementary kids run the hours of the high school kids."

The Fridays when school is not in session will be used for tutoring, storm makeup days and staff development days, which will eliminate the need for early-outs.

One Friday each month will be a discovery day, in which enrichment activities and tutoring will be offered. Those days, the school will be fully staffed and operate on a normal schedule. The buses will run and food will be provided. Although students are welcome to stay the entire day, they are not required to do so, as attendance is optional on those days.

The school will exceed the required hours of instructional time.

"We currently have 962.5 hours, and that is strictly academic time; that's not solely the time that they're here--lunch, recess, all of that," O'Brien told the community. "The projected hours of the extended day would be 961.2. The (amount) required by the state of North Dakota is 951.5."

If students attend every discovery day, she added, they would get an additional 48 hours of instructional time, giving them more instructional time than they currently receive.

Joe Vesey attended the meeting and has a child at Medora. He said he supports the change.

"I don't see much of a downside to it, especially if they're going to offer tutoring on top of it and more one-on-one time," he said.

He also likes that he can save his kid a 2 ½ hour-long bus ride on the Fridays school isn't in session.

Parents and community members who weren't able to attend the meeting at Prairie Elementary can attend a meeting in the Medora Community Center at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

The school sent home a survey with students Wednesday, and Medora will send a survey home on Friday. The school will provide the results to the school board for their next meeting.

The board is expected to vote on a decision during that meeting on Tuesday, January 15 at 5 p.m. at DeMores School in Medora. They welcome community members to air their concerns at the meeting, prior to the vote.

If the board votes to move forward, it must apply to the state for approval. If approved, the county's schools will be evaluated after the first year the change is implemented to ensure the schools are still meeting state education requirements and standards.

"(We will) present to the state how things went, show that we're maintaining our scores and show that our students are still having academic success," O'Brien said. "It's not as though we decide this and then we stay this way forever."

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