The decision by the San Elizario Independent School District to move to a four-day class schedule for the upcoming school year was easy to make, the superintendent said.
“If we didn’t do something, the teacher vacancies would continue to climb and our students wouldn’t be getting a quality education, and we would be creating a bigger equity issue,” said Jeannie Meza-Chavez, the San Elizario ISD superintendent. “Now every student will be taught by a certified teacher.”
Starting Tuesday, the 3,000-student school district in the Lower Valley is moving to a four-day class schedule. The move, approved by the SEISD Board of Trustees in January, makes San Elizario the only school district in El Paso County to shorten its school week.
San Elizario is now one of about 60 districts statewide that have adopted the new schedule. The district’s headquarters and its six campuses will be closed on Mondays, thus giving its teachers a three-day weekend.
“We are still within the framework of what the state mandates. We are just going to do it in four days,” Meza-Chavez said. “I hope our Mondays look like a Sunday – with little to no activity at the campuses. We don’t even want staff there.”
The board chose to have Mondays off because most federal holidays fall on Mondays, and some student events such as football games are on Fridays. Students will still accumulate the required 75,600 instruction minutes for the year.
“I have faith that this will work,” she said. “I have a team of passionate people around – from the board, to the parents, to the teachers, staff, administrators and the students.”
Prior to the start of the school year which begins next week, Meza-Chavez sat down with El Paso Matters. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
El Paso Matters: What were the two or three main factors that convinced SEISD to switch to a four-day class schedule?
Meza-Chavez: 1) Recruiting and retention: This was an equity issue for us. We want every student to have a certified teacher teaching them in class every day. If the state of Texas wants our students to be assessed every year, then we need certified teachers in our schools. We are definitely seeing the benefits as we have people selecting San Elizario as the district of choice for their employment. For the first time in two and a half years, we will begin with every single science position filled at San Elizario High School. Both of the job fairs we have held have been by invitation only.
2) Self-Care (Mindful Eagle Mondays): The four-day week is a quality-of-life choice that individuals in the education field are interested in. This decision has received the attention of teachers who are serious about obtaining a balance between their profession and home responsibilities. Mindful Eagle Mondays will allow students and employees to seek self-care opportunities.
El Paso Matters: What were the biggest obstacles in making the switch?
Meza-Chavez: 1) Change: It is different so that naturally is the initial obstacle. School systems have been traditionally run on a five-day week so four days is different. We are very aware that this change is being viewed and scrutinized because people have opinions. There are individuals thinking that it is a great idea and others that do not believe this will work. And, then there are others thinking I wish we had done that.
2) Expectations: Almost every district who sets out to do a four-day week is confronted with Mondays. What will happen on Mondays in terms of food and child care for students. Our counselors and district social workers already know our families, specifically the ones that are undergoing food insecurity and that is something they assist with even on a five-day instructional schedule. Pause for a moment and think about what families do during the summer. Who cares and feeds the students during the consecutive days off the entire summer? Nonetheless, we have partnered with the YWCA so if there are parents who need child care, then they have an option to seek out child care services from the YWCA for a minimal fee. In addition, we have partnered with American Heart Association Healthy Client Choice Pantry, where we will continue with an in-district food pantry for our students.
El Paso Matters: Whose idea was it to switch, and where did the resistance come from, if at all? If there was not much resistance what would you attribute that to?
Meza-Chavez: The credit goes to the San Elizario ISD Board of Trustees, which attended various state school board association trainings where they learned what other districts in the state of Texas were doing. While San Elizario ISD is the first district in the El Paso County region to approve the four-day instructional week for the 2023-2024 school year, the four-day instructional week is not new to Texas.
We have been discussing the four-day instructional week for some time and we have had numerous informational meetings where we received questions from parents and staff. While some parents have expressed “it’s different,” they understand that attracting certified teachers to teach all our children is a benefit. This was a real situation for many of our parents who had a (substitute teacher) teaching their child. I mentioned the science vacancies we had for two and half years at our high school, but we had other vacancies in our other five schools.
El Paso Matters:. Other districts in Texas have switched to four-day schedules. What is the key to making it work?
Meza-Chavez: Planning and research is what has prepared San Elizario ISD.
El Paso Matters: For how long, or how many years, is SEISD committed to this?
Meza-Chavez: The San Elizario ISD Board of Trustees have committed to a minimum of two years.