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No more Mondays at Niagara Catholic High school is first to try a four-day week

Monday morning blues?

Not for students at Niagara Catholic High School.

The 145 students returning this week will be the first in the state to try a four-day week when Niagara Catholic unveils its new schedule. Monday is eliminated, but the other days are lengthened by more than an hour. The new hours will be 7:45 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

It's a plan that has been adopted by at least 100 public school districts in 17 states, but Niagara Catholic appears to be the first school in New York to do it.

Whether it will set a new standard or fail remains to be seen.

Rural school districts have turned to cutting one day a week as the ultimate way to save on transportation and heating costs. For Niagara Catholic, officials are hoping the experimental plan will attract new students at a time when faith-based school enrollment is suffering.

"No one else is doing it," said Principal Robert DiFrancesco. "Of course I think this will be an attraction for our school. But we really think this presents a unique and positive opportunity for students and families."

It's uncharted territory; DiFrancesco admits research on four-day school weeks is scarce.

In the national discussion over four-day weeks, critics worry students will have trouble learning if they are stuck in classrooms for longer periods of time. Students also could lose out on needed physical education and athletics by missing that fifth day.

Public schools are required to offer 180 days of instruction or face losing millions in state aid dollars. But a legislative hearing in December looked at changes that could open the door for public schools to follow in Niagara Catholic's path.

The New York State School Boards Association is neutral on the idea, but wants more research before the law is changed to allow it, as some other states have done.

"We want to know, what does research say about how kids will handle it?" said association spokeswoman Barbara Bradley. "How do younger kids endure longer classes? How do parents handle this when they're working five days a week?"

Niagara Catholic will conduct its own research by partnering with Niagara University to measure academic performance and attendance over the next two years.

"We don't have a lot of research to go by, but what we do know is four-day school weeks aren't around here much," DiFrancesco said. "That's why we're tracking it -- it's got to benefit our youngsters."

DiFrancesco said the school has committed to at least two years of the new schedule, but if research isn't positive, it will abandon the idea.

Scheduling has been mostly smooth, DiFrancesco said, with the only problem coming from sports -- facilities will need to remain open on Mondays while the school is closed.

The school will partner with Niagara University to host a "fifth-day program," where students can take college readiness classes.

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, which gives the school a $133,000 annual subsidy, supports the "visionary" plan to partner with Niagara University, said diocesan spokesman Kevin Keenan.

Niagara Catholic High School gets no state aid and is not mandated to have 180 days of instruction, but the new schedule will result in a net addition of two days' worth of instructional time, when all of the additional hours from the extended school day are added up.

The school expects to save as much as $10,000 on operating costs and staff will get the same pay and benefits, DiFrancesco said.

It's too soon to tell if the schedule will help enrollment. DiFrancesco said three new families joined the school because of the four-day school week, but the school may have lost others.

"I don't think we'll really know until we've done it for a year," he said.

It's also too soon for Niagara Catholic families to tell how they will like the new plan.

Mari Boland was concerned about her son Matthew's Mondays going to waste. But she was relieved he will be able to enroll in Niagara University's program or participate in internships, she said.

Matthew, 16, isn't sure yet how he'll spend his free Mondays, but his friends have some ideas.

"A bunch of friends have been saying we can hang out Sunday and not worry about getting up earlier, so it should be better for parties," he said. "We'll have to see how it goes. No one really likes Mondays anyway."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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