By Brad Mosher
There will be a big difference when school starts again in Halliday for the fall in late August
But it won’t be obvious for several months.
The school week will be one day less as the elementary school with the Wolverine mascot moves into a hybrid version of a four-day format.
But it will only be that way some of the time.
According to the superintendent of the school, the change will help open up better educational possibilities for the students.
For Tony Duletski, it has taken a lot of long effort to make the change.
“This has been a two-year process. I researched this two years ago and DPI (Department of Public Instruction) felt that we were not ready. They were very good about it and truth be known, we were not ready for it (then),” he explained in a recent interview.
Unlike some districts which have made Friday the day off on the weekly schedule, Halliday is making Mondays the day off on the hybrid four-day calendar which the superintendent had created.
The big difference will be the Halliday district will be operating on a five-day schedule for the first few months, the superintendent said.
Starts in December
“It will be in the winter months that we will go into four days. In December, January, February and March we will be four days. But the rest of the year, in the beginning of the year and the end of the year, it is going to be five days,” he said.
The adoption of the hybrid schedule also means there will be changes in how teachers and students work during the school year, he added.
“There is a paradigm shift in education. Our kids are visual learners. They learn kinetically with their eyes and their hands,” he said, noting in the past, kids were learning in an entirely different way. “They have got a whole different learning style.
“Technology has changed a lot of it.”
According to Duletski, the decision was made locally to go outside the box in order to improve the education of the Halliday students.
In the past, math education was a mile wide and an inch deep, he said. “Now, that has changed. You go a mile deep and an inch wide. A lot of it was rote memory.
“We call it hands-on and learning-based activities. Not only are they going to stay with kids, they are going to experience it and have to figure some of this out by themselves,” he explained.
STREAM is one part of the change in structure at Halliday which will play a key role for students. “S is for science. T is for technology. R is for reading. E is for engineering. A is for arts. M is for mathematics,” the superintendent said.
Rare for rural
A four-day week is something rare in North Dakota. “There were four schools that applied and I think all four of us got approved.
“There are very very few schools, but I think you are seeing a trend happen,” he explained. “There was a lot of work involved. You have to survey the community, the teachers, the parents, but what was really interesting…”
He found a good reaction. “The kids are excited and so are the teachers. We want to come up with activities to bring people into our schools,” the superintendent said.
He claims that the school and students have already seen the impact a more immersive style of education can have. “We had drones come in for the day. The kids absolutely loved that. And they are going to learn by doing.”
It has also opened up other learning possibilities. “We want to get into building robotics and building simple machines. We’ll look into the mathematics behind that. They are going to learn by doing.
“Even though we will be going into a four-day (week), it will be more than four days with teachers,” he said.
Part of the advantages will be the impact outside resources can play on education, he explained.
“Some of these learning based activities that I have planned are going to include first aid, baking, pottery, bringing authors in…” He admitted it will be a lot of work for the teachers. “We want to bring in activities that will bring people into our school.
“We have resources here with our teachers, but we can bring in outside resources,” he said, noting that when he was visiting with a friend who has a four-day schedule, that the school had an arrangement with area businesses.
“He said, you should call them. They will come out and do like a baking exercise with your kids. He has a friend who is a chef and that he might like to come out.”
To Duletski, that was music to his ears.
“Those are activities that we would like to incorporate. Wouldn’t that be cool to bring a five-star chef to our little school. He could sit down and show our kindergarten kids how to bake.
There is another one that is first aid and gun safety. We want to have health fairs. We want to draw resources that are in our community. I have a friend that works with pottery and has a pottery wheel. I asked him about coming up and he said that would be really, really cool,” the superintendent added. There are also some things which could be part of a health or physical fitness learning block, he said.
“These days that we are taking off in the winter, there is going to be days when we do project-based learning things. We have the facilities. This used to be a K-12 school and now it is a K-6, so we have a whole wing of empty classrooms,” he said. “We have a science lab that I know some high schools would die for. We have a home economic room. We have an industrial arts room… so the space is not an issue.
Duletski admitted the adoption of the new programs was not done as part of a cost savings program. “The state said if you did it for that it probably wasn’t going to get approved. We did not look at it… and the board did not perceive it as a way to save money. Is there going to be a cost saving? It probably is going to be a wash. We probably are not going to have school on a couple of those Mondays – the 15 or 16 Mondays. But we may have school, depending on if we can bring in some of those project based (days).
“If we don’t have school on that Monday, we won’t have busing and we won’t have cafeteria services.
“But with our project-based activities bringing outsiders in, that is going to cost us,” the superintendent said.
The main focus for the changeover was the kids, he said. “We have got to challenge these kids into a different curriculum in the robotic and mathematics side.
“Kids learn differently than we did,” he said, noting the need to update or change the elementary curriculum.
“There are jobs out there that some of us don’t even know about,” he said.
The new schedule will exceed the state requirement for instructional hours, according to the superintendent.
In Halliday, the schedule will have 960 instructional hours, which is above the state requirement of 951.5 hours of instruction for the elementary grades.
The 14 scheduled off days could be designated as off days for both students and staff, or as professional development days for the staff or be used as student project based learning days, he added.
According to the schedule, the first day of school will be Aug. 19, while the last month of 2019 and the first month of 2020, will each have three Mondays open.
While February 2020 also has three Mondays open, in March there will be four open Mondays, even with Spring Break.
The four-day schedule will have some economic benefit in lower transportation costs, along with fewer expenditures for school food services, para-professionals and substitute teachers. In addition, there would be cuts in heating and electrical costs, he added.
The district examined not only four-day districts in North Dakota, but also in other states.
It ended with the board passing it by a unanimous 5-0 margin after going through a series of parent and community meetings, the superintendent explained.
About 92 percent of the parents survey supported the move, while all of the school employees also agreed with the four-day plan.
The superintendent also said that because of the teacher shortage in the state and the community’s rural location, the four-day plan would reap a huge benefit in teacher recruitment and retention for the district.
(First of a series)