Hamburg School Board met last week and recognized literacy programs and teachers. Also discussed were the annual audit and the potential for a four-day school week next fall.

The board recognized the efforts put forth by staff members toward the fundamental goal of improving literacy among their students.

The teachers recognized instruct approximately 140 Hamburg School District students in literacy-related educational programs that address specific needs. The programs they lead are more important than ever because the pandemic, Streeter said, “put layers on the needs these kids had educationally.” 

As a result, the district had previously “made a decision to place (Leslie Nelms) over the Dyslexia and Intervention programs,” Streeter said. That decision turned out to be a productive one, as Streeter acknowledged Nelms’s efforts that helped the district acquire a Successful Outcomes for Arkansas Readers (SOAR) grant, as well as all the gains made by the students these programs serve. 

The Take Flight program, which the literacy teachers are also utilizing, is being used successfully nationwide. The program’s website, ReadWrite.org, says that it focuses on such elements as phonemic awareness, vocabulary and fluency to help children get back on track with their literacy levels. To further support students in the program, comprehension strategies are also used.  

The HSD teachers created a Take Flight pre- and post-test assessments to gauge their students’ reading abilities. 

Other teachers closed two-year gaps some students had in their reading levels. And yet another uses the Take Flight program in conjunction with the English as a Second Language (ESL) program she teaches. The data HSD has collected shows that the implementation of such programs has resulted in successful gains for the students of the district. 

The board also discussed the approval of the new five-year 1240 waiver, which covers public school accountability, as well as the favorable no-findings result of the months-long standard audit. The district had anticipated the process being lengthier and more difficult than usual because of all the COVID-19-related funds it received. However, thanks to impeccable record-keeping efforts among all who handle money for the district, it was not as unpleasant as expected and everyone is pleased with the results, officials said.

The potential to shift to a four-day school week was a brief but at-times contentious topic.

The possibility for the change was a topic of discussion at the meeting because the tentative time frame for teachers and staff to vote on the 2022-23 school year calendar was this week, and one possibility they will consider is a four-day week. After the vote, whichever calendar proposal prevails will be taken to the board for approval.

The calendar process begins each year with choosing a district calendar to turn in to the state, HSD Special Programs Coordinator Michelle Dunbar said. Districts are required to choose two of three calendar proposals to present to the staff for a vote.

This year, after surveying other school districts and their staff, the decision to give the teachers and staff at least the option of a four-day school week seemed like a reasonable one, Dunbar said, though she emphasized that the public’s input matters and is necessary to making the best decision for all involved.

The district is “taking questions and concerns” from the public regarding the changes and what that would entail for the families and students, Dunbar said.

HSD used a model during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that had students attend classes in-person Tuesday through Friday, with Mondays reserved for at-home, virtual education for all students. The proposed model would instead add instructional time to each school day to make up for the day off.

Some pros for the four-day concept include the three-day weekend every week, with Monday being chosen as the day off. Another pro discussed at the meeting is that the longer school day translates into more uninterrupted instruction time per class. The extra time would be beneficial for many teachers who realize that in-depth instruction and the conversations and questions this inspires in students can be a challenge to achieve in the time allotted by a traditional class schedule. Longer instruction time could potentially mean more students could be individually helped per class period, leading to better comprehension and retention levels among the students across all subjects.

Some concerns have been expressed by some who had already gotten wind of the potential change. Board member Maggie Ware, however, said Monday was the first she had heard of the matter and so did not have a chance to prepare questions. Ware assured the rest of the board she would have some ready at their next meeting. 

One of the concerns about the proposal that was discussed was the long hours it would require of students. For those who ride the buses, the change could result in a considerably longer day. Students with the longest routes would possibly be picked up just before 6 a.m. and arrive back a home at approximately 5:30 p.m.

The longer schedule may also interfere with after-school activities, some noted, but with other districts using a four-day school week work-arounds are readily available . 

A significant concern discussed was childcare, or rather, the lack of it for Mondays. Some ideas discussed at the meeting included the possibility of using Mondays as a tutoring day, which would be a win-win because it would give some staff the chance to be present if they chose while also giving the students the opportunity to improve their performance in a certain subject. 

Worries about insufficient supervision on Mondays for the students who weren’t in school —possibly causing a rise in area crime — were briefly brought up but quickly snuffed. The thought that the students would automatically engage in shenanigans once given a weekday outside of school turned the stomach of some present, and one observer pointed out that if an individual wanted to commit a crime, they would be just as likely to do so on a Saturday as on a Monday.  

Superintendent Tracy Streeter told the board that there are opportunities for improvement that the discussion of a four-day school week highlights. She cited the need for childcare workers and staff as a concern for parents and the district. Streeter also encouraged involvement within the district itself, not just by those employed by it, but also by the entire community as well. 

One reason this potential calendar change was even entertained was as a potential recruitment tool for bringing new teachers and staff to the area. The district has several open positions that have remained open for a substantial amount of time and the district wants to fill these vacancies.

The next board meeting is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 10 at the central administration office.