Affirmation that the San Elizario Independent School District made the right move in switching to a four-day school schedule came after the first 90 days of class when 73% of its employees said they prefer the new schedule, a district survey shows.
And, not a single parent has complained about the new schedule at any of four school board meetings since the start of the school year, nor has the subject been brought up with the district’s parent liaison.
“First of all, my kids love it,” said parent Evelyn Arroyo, who has a third-grader and a fourth-grader in the district. “They like the three days off every week. But more importantly, they seem more engaged when they do go back to school, they want to do their homework.”
In August, San Elizario, with its 3,000 students in the Lower Valley, became the first school district in El Paso to switch to a four-day schedule, joining 76 other school districts in Texas. While San Eli is committed to staying on the new schedule for at least two years, the district is measuring and monitoring every aspect of its operation – including results of student performance on state tests, which will not be available for a year.
So far, the results from the district’s other metrics being monitored have been positive, said Jeannie Meza-Chavez, the district’s superintendent.
“It’s not even close. Just about everyone is happy with the new schedule. They are using Mondays for self-care initiatives and honey-dos,” Meza-Chavez said. “Overall, it is paying off.”
- An internal survey conducted anonymously by the district’s Human Resources Department at the nine weeks mark asked all teachers and staff if they prefer to stay on the four-day schedule or revert to five days. Results showed that 73% of employees want to stay on the four-day schedule.
- The district currently has three certified teacher openings, compared to about 20 in previous years. One of the main reasons San Elizario moved to a four-day schedule was to attract certified teachers, something the district had been lacking.
- The district’s electricity bill is down more than $83,000 compared to a year ago. For the months of July, August, and September in 2022, the overall electricity bill for the district was $283,888. This year the bill for the same time period was $200,886.
- The district’s fuel bill is down $10,051 after nine weeks because 2,917 fewer gallons of fuel have been used so far when compared to the same time last year.
Teacher and student absences are also slightly lower. So far this year, the average student attendance rate is 94.35%. Last year, at the nine-week mark, the attendance rate was 92.87%.
Last year, from July to September, employees, including teachers, took 1,142 absent days. This year during the same time frame, the number is down to 951.
Norma De La Rosa, the Texas State Teacher Association member advocate for the El Paso region, said she has talked to several teachers in the San Elizario district and said they are happy with the schedule.
“Initially, some teachers had some concerns and were worried about whether it would work,” De La Rosa said. “Now that they are into it, they see more advantages than disadvantages. The three-day weekend has made it easier to plan and get ready for the school week.”
The final decision to switch the 2023-24 school year to a four-day schedule was made by the San Elizario school board in January. The goal was to give parents enough time to plan for Mondays off and to give the community a chance to vet any concerns.
The questions from the parents and community never came, said Eduardo Chavez, the president of the San Elizario school board. He has been on the board since 2019.
Chavez said he is looking forward to seeing what student test scores look like at the end of the year.
“That is, and will be the key, to the success of the four-day schedule,” she said.
Parent Jessica Muniz has four students in the district. She is not opposed to the four-day schedule, but she is not in favor of it either.
“I went to school five days a week forever, it is what everyone does,” Muniz said. “I haven’t seen a difference in my child’s grades or willingness to go to school. Nothing has really changed, other than they have three-day weekends.”
To keep her children active, she enrolled them in the Boys and Girls Club in San Elizario on Mondays so they can be out of the house and have some structure.
Itzel Olivas, a San Eli senior and member of the volleyball team, said she and her peers love the four-day school week.
“I use Mondays to catch up and get ready for the week,” Olivas said. “It really helps us stay motivated and willing to do more in four days. The week goes by fast.”
Alex Cigarroa, 17, said he used Mondays for his dentist appointments.
“It just makes it easier, and I don’t have to call in sick,” the senior said. “I think they should keep the new schedule going.”
Chavez said the school board is already preparing the school calendar for next year, and it will remain on a Tuesday through Friday schedule.
“I think that it is the right thing for our community,” Chavez said. “We are a smaller district and this is the best way to bring in good teachers and keep them.”
The starting teacher salary at San Eli is $57,000, which is on par with the El Paso Independent School District but less than Ysleta and Socorro.
As this school year continues, and preparations are made for next year, Meza-Chavez said adjustments will be made as they are encountered. So far, only one major adjustment was made.
“We had to departmentalize the third- and fourth-grade,” Meza-Chavez said. “It was too much lesson planning for those teachers who had to teach every subject.”
The switch means third- and fourth-grade teachers are now teaching only one subject as the students move from one classroom to another, instead of being in the same room all day.
Another possible problem that the district is keeping an eye on is the time that the younger students spend at school. Elementary school students start their day at 7:20 a.m. and finish at 4:05 p.m.
“It was a worry initially, but the little ones seem to be adjusting without much problem,” she said.
The longer day is needed because the Texas Education Agency requires that all students receive 75,600 minutes of instruction a year. There is no requirement on the number of days used to accumulate those minutes.
Arroyo, the San Eli parent, works just about every Monday at the Mendoza Grocery and Gift Shop in San Elizario. She said the longer days have not been a problem for her little ones.
“It’s only four days and they seem more eager to be at school knowing they are about to have a three-day weekend,” she said.
Update, Nov. 21, 9:20 a.m.: This story has been updated to include that student performance is a key metric that SEISD is monitoring.