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Huntley Project becomes latest school district to consider 4-day school week

Attracting and retaining teachers continues to be a challenge for many small school districts in Montana, the latest to see the struggle, Huntley Project.
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Posted at 4:17 PM, Mar 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-13 18:50:46-04

WORDEN- Attracting and retaining teachers continues to be a challenge for many small school districts in Montana, and the latest to seek a solution to the struggle is Huntley Project.

Superintendent Mark Wandle says it’s time to get resourceful to see students succeed, which is why the district is talking about switching to a four-day school week.

It comes at a time when teachers experience a rising level of job-related stress.

“We are just trying to figure out ways to get more applicants,” said Wandle.

It’s a dilemma many Montana districts have faced before.

According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction, more than 220 schools in districts across the state have adopted a four-day week.

And since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of schools in Montana operating on four-day school weeks grew by 55%.

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So far the Huntley Project district has held one informational meeting, where Wandle says 44 people showed up to learn more. The district will hold another one on March 26 at 6 p.m. at the school.

Parent Stephanie Humphrey is just one of many families gauging how a proposed four-day school week could impact her family.

With a second grader and preschooler, Humphrey says her family is always on the move, flexing schedules and trying to maintain structure.

“I am incredibly busy,” she said. “I don’t know how not to be busy.”

As a member of the Huntley Project PTA, she says she’s not opposed to switching to a four-day school week.

“No matter what you do there’s going to be pros and cons,” she said. “I think a four day would be really nice for teachers especially. My dad was a teacher and I know burnout is real.”

But she’s sensitive to those families who are cautious of the idea, due to a lack of childcare resources in the area.

“That is one of the big cons, is childcare. It's hard to find good childcare or affordable childcare,” she said.

Wandle sympathizes with that too, and says the district is considering ways to accommodate.

The National Education Association places Montana 51st in the nation for starting teacher salaries at $34,000. On average, teachers in Montana get paid roughly $54,000.

Wandle says usually they lose good teachers to districts like Billings, which pays higher wages. He believes Huntley Project can sell prospective candidates on culture, but it’s not an easy task.

He says they’ve tossed around the idea of a four-day school week before, but that all changed last summer when the search for teachers was so bleak they even turned to international candidates.

“We even hired a lady from Kenya and after talking about where Worden is and our public transportation is basically, walk here,” he said, “All of a sudden, she ghosted us and the company too.”

As Huntley continues to mull over the decision, Wandle says they’ll continue to get input on any obstacles from the public.