WENDOVER — Wendover High School and Anna Smith Elementary School will move to four-day school schedules starting this fall.
The Utah State Board of Education on Thursday granted the Tooele County School District a waiver from the state attendance rule to allow it to conduct school four days a week near the Utah-Nevada state line.
The school district sought the change after the Elko County (Nevada) School District informed it that its schools in neighboring West Wendover will switch to a four-day school schedule week next year.
Tooele County School District Superintendent Scott Rogers told a state board committee last month that the district already struggles with teacher retention because Nevada schools pay better and if Tooele District did not shift to a four-day school week when its neighbors have, things would just get worse.
“The teacher shortage really feels urgent here on the Wasatch Front. It feels even more urgent in rural Utah,” he said.
Although Tooele County is 7,500 square miles in size, “most of that doesn’t bring in revenue,” Rogers said.
Being physically located next to a district that over the years that has become “more competitive than cooperative” presents even greater challenges, Rogers said.
“The real problem comes down to trying to staff (schools). We have an average of 30% to sometimes 50% turnover at Wendover High School. It’s hard to maintain progress on school improvement and build up steam when you are constantly replacing and retraining your staff,” Rogers told the board’s Law and Licensing Committee.
According to the state’s fall enrollment figures, about 172 students attend Wendover High School, which serves grades seven through 12. Anna Smith Elementary serves 223 students.
Another challenge, according to the district’s waiver application, is that the school experiences high levels of absenteeism when students participate in extracurricular activities.
“Currently, when traveling to an away boys basketball game, Wendover High School will have up to 35% of the student body absent for more than three hours of educational time. The impact on the remaining 65% of the student body is the loss of up to four licensed teachers who are also serving as high school coaches. These data are representative of other sports at Wendover High School,” the application states.
Rogers said the Utah High School Activities Association is considering the creation of an activities region of schools that observe four-day schedules. “Perhaps that can cut down on some travel when they organize that,” he said.
The school district observes a four-day schedule at Dugway High School and Ibapah and Vernon elementary schools.
At Dugway High School, shifting to a four-day school week has contributed to high test scores, Rogers said. At elementary schools, no classes on Friday has meant greater ease scheduling medical appointments or other events that require significant travel given the remote locations of the communities.
According to the school district’s application to the State School Board, 85% of stakeholders favored the change.
“We feel like as long as we can guarantee those instructional minutes and hours, the days are more immaterial than the real discussion, which is kids getting a quality education and spending time with instruction,” Rogers said.
The State School Board voted unanimously to grant the waiver.