St. Stephen's tries four-day school week; enrollment skyrocketingAug 28, 2016 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
No St. Stephen's Indian School students attended class on Friday. That was by design.
The small K-12 school system moved to a four-day school week beginning this academic year.
The change was implemented after school administration and the St. Stephen's Indian School Board of Education agreed to test the schedule for one year in hopes of gaining enrollment, improving attendance, and accommodating practices and travel for sports.
The district also wants to see if the change will have a positive effect on student achievement rates and the fiscal health of the district.
Frank No Runner, who's entering his second year as St. Stephen's superintendent while also starting his first year as the high school principal, said all stakeholders were included in the process before the board made a decision about the four-day schedule.
School officials received positive feedback for the idea from parents, students and staff via surveys. Administrators also contacted other schools in the state that operate under a short school week.
The only other district in Fremont County that has a four-day schedule is Fremont County School District 6 in Pavillion. That public school district is funded by the state.
St. Stephen's is operated by the Bureau of Indian Education and is not part of the Wyoming public school system, although it is affiliated in numerous ways, and it usually does get some state funding in the form of legislation passed by the Wyoming Legislature.
A few years ago, FCSD 1 in Lander considered the four-day idea but received negative feedback through surveys.
After lengthy research and data-collecting, St. Stephen's school officials presented their information to the board, and the new schedule was approved in March.
The change has attracted more students to the district already, No Runner said.
St. Stephen's High School has 101 enrolled students this month, up by 30 students from the previous school year.
The elementary and middle school has 168 students enrolled, up from the 138 students that were enrolled at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
Both schools have a waiting list.
Students and staff are acclimating to the new schedule, No Runner said. For both buildings on campus, 45 minutes were added to each school day.
The change also is the reason the district had an earlier first day of school: Aug. 15.
When administrators looked at attendance for previous years, they noticed Friday was the "most missed day," No Runner said. "(Students) are traveling far for sports games," he said.
Now, the schools are recording up to a 90 percent attendance rate, and they'd like to go above that number, No Runner said. Administrators and teachers are stressing to students that Fridays should be used for sports-related activities, family time and traditional practices.
The district has added cross country to its list of sports. No Runner said they already have 30 boys interested in playing football.
"I think we finally have a vision set here," he said. "We're moving in the right direction."
There's also a "closed campus" rule now imposed on certified staff, meaning they can't leave for lunch. They also have only a 30-minute break as opposed to the 40- to 45-minute break. Instructional time has been increased and is no longer interrupted by bus rides, No Runner added.
The board and administration spent time looking at the drawbacks to having a four-day schedule. For example, some high school seniors said that, because it's their last year at the district, they'd like to spend as much time as they can in their high school setting. School officials also considered what children who may come from troubled homes will do with an extra day off.
Finally, due to the extra 45 minutes of school each day, students may feel more fatigued when they go home, but No Runner said the three-day weekend can be a relief.
Two weeks into the school year, No Runner said he noticed a difference in students already.
"Students come more refreshed on Monday," he said."Kids seem to really enjoy it."
As the school filled to capacity, more staff and additional classes became necessary. The Arapaho Cultural Instruction Program at the district has been expanded to teach Arapaho politics, art, language, beading and crafts.
Last year there were only two instructors for the Arapaho culture and language classes. Now, there are two Arapaho language K-12 teachers and two Arapaho cultural paraprofessionals.
Another language instructor will be hired part-time, No Runner said.
Many positions that were left vacant in the last school year are now filled, including the high school English, social studies and math positions, as well as the counselor and librarian jobs.
Overall, the high school has six new staff members, plus No Runner as principal. The elementary school and middle school have three new staff members.
Some teachers who will retire soon were moved to paraprofessional positions.
"We had no trouble filling in those positions," No Runner said.
"Our long term goal in school leadership is to increase the base salary for teachers to be more competitive with other school districts."
in the area."
The salary goal will address the turnover rate at the schools, No Runner added.
His administration also is working on an application to modify its contract with the BIA to allow the district to provide federal health insurance and pay 100 percent of covered health benefits.
Once a month on Fridays, staff will be required to attend professional development training required by the BIE. No Runner said the district will have to compensate teachers for out-of-contract hours spent at those trainings, but staff will get the chance to attend more than one training a month and complete more than the minimum 10 trainings the BIE requires.
A new parent advisory group was created to help families and staff members communicate while the new schedule is implemented. The group's goal is to capture the ideas and opinions of all students and parents and relay the information to school administrators.
"They're going to create an outlet for a dialogue," No Runner said. "They'll help get parents and teachers on the same page."
Overall, the group's desire is to help teachers get to know the parents on a personal level.
Another focus for the group is to help parents understand the method of instruction at the schools, inform them about assessments, and stress the importance of challenging all students.
"They want the high expectations for their students here at St. Stephen's," No Runner said.
He thinks higher expectations are placed on students in other school districts.
Administrators are working with the St. Stephen's board to revise school policy. There is a plan to upload more than 25 years of meeting minutes on the school's revamped website. Officials also are forming ideas for a cell phone app for St. Stephen's school students, parents and staff.
A new calendar filled with important dates was recently released, and a cultural leadership team was created to oversee new cultural classes. The group formed with a three-year cultural program plan.
"That's what I'm most proud of," No Runner said, adding they'll eventually form an advisory program for elders, too.
Next year, No Runner would like to begin plans to create a daycare on campus for the non-school aged children of staff. An addition could be built to accommodate the daycare, or a room in one of the existing buildings on campus could be remodeled.
No Runner helped form plans for daycares at his previous two jobs in Montana. He said school daycares are more common in the neighboring state.