Gerlach will convert from a 5-day school week to a Monday-through-Thursday week for the next two school years, which will be followed by an evaluation before deciding on future calendars, school trustees decided Tuesday.
The school, located about 120 miles north of Reno near the Black Rock Desert, requested Washoe County School District trustees make the consideration. The district conducted surveys in February and again last week, although a high transiency rate in Gerlach meant family results from each survey varied, district staff said.
Trustee Debra Feemster suggested last month that the survey done in February be recommissioned. She heard from constituents in Gerlach who told her they answered “yes” to a 4-day week on the paper survey because of pressure from others. That survey showed 100 percent of staff and 84 percent of families supported a 4-day week.
A survey done last week still showed consensus among staff, but the vote among families was split 50-50. All but one family replied.
“For the families (last week), we wrote an online survey and translated it into Spanish and then we also created a back-up phone survey in English and Spanish in case we weren’t able to reach families by email,” said Laura Davidson, district director of research and evaluation.
Davidson also said the recent surveys were conducted using household identification numbers, not names.
Gerlach collectively has 24 students in elementary, middle, and high school. There are two certified teachers, two teacher assistants, two special education aides, one groundskeeper, one bus driver, and a half-time office manager. Katy Hadley, principal of Northstar Online School, oversees leadership in Gerlach.
Some students travel from as far as 45 miles each way, many on gravel roads, to get to school. Feedback garnered by the district indicated having off one weekday is helpful for those in Gerlach who must travel to the Reno area for appointments. A round trip would take almost all day and would require missing a full day of school. If a teacher has to be out, there’s nobody to fill in for them.
“There’s no substitute who can take their place,” board president Katy Simon Holland said. “So we have kids unable to get the education that they came to the school for due to those situations.”
Reduced fuel cost, lower utility bills, and the ease of filling positions were among other reasons for a 4-day week.
This makes the 143-day school year 415 minutes per school day, or 59,400 minutes per school year.
Trustees modified the Gerlach calendar last year to give the school off the week of the Burning Man counterculture arts festival. School officials made the request then because the week-long event before Labor Day brings an increase of strangers into the area, excessive traffic, and long lines for fuel. Gerlach this year requested that week be made up by forgoing fall break in October.