JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Bishop McCort Catholic High School will switch to a four-day school week this fall by replacing traditional instruction on Fridays with optional enrichment time, school leaders said on Thursday.

Thomas Smith, chief academic officer and principal at the Johnstown school, expects the new schedule to benefit both students and teachers, he said during a press conference.

"We think, overall, it's going to be a game-changer for our school," he said.

Fridays will be used for SAT and PSAT test preparation, tutoring, science fairs and college visits. Teachers will continue to get their contractual pay and can now earn incentives for working on Fridays. School administrators hope to boost morale and increase student and staff attendance.

Smith began considering the option last summer as many schools were dealing with a shortage of teachers.

After Smith consulted with leaders at schools across the country that use similar schedules and presented the idea to the school's board of trustees, a series of stakeholder surveys was launched around December.

"We're encouraged by the idea and like the opportunity it presents," said Tim Clark, president of the board of trustees.

Under the new schedule, Bishop McCort students will start their school days at 7:40 a.m. and end them at 3:05 p.m. – previously, students were dismissed at 2:25 p.m., with optional tutoring afterward.

Smith said this will add eight minutes to each class period each day, allowing the school to continue to meet the 990 hours of instruction per year that are required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

As far as Smith knows, Bishop McCort is one of the first schools in Pennsylvania to implement a four-day school week, and while other schools in the country already use similar schedules, he said, the optional enrichment Fridays are a novel idea.

An office of enrichment led by faculty members will be established at Bishop McCort next school year. Clark said that test scores and other academics will be monitored to hold the program accountable moving forward.

When creating the schedule, Smith said, the Bishop McCort team focused on instructional time while maintaining the school's classic curriculum and traditional setting.

English teacher Lorie Regan, who has taught at Bishop McCort for 33 years, said that she views additional teaching time as a huge benefit for the students and said that it will allow her to dig deeper into class material.

"I'm really excited for this opportunity," she said.

When Regan was initially told about the change, she was indifferent, she said, but it became more appealing as she researched the concept.

"The more I read, I thought, 'This is fantastic,'" Regan said.

She plans to occasionally work on Fridays for tutoring, but also looks forward to more time spent with her family.

Smith said that family time was a large consideration in switching to the new schedule. Administrators noticed that students often left early on Fridays or took the day off for long vacations. Moving forward, he wants to encourage more of that.

Ninth-grader Sam Herring said he likes to travel, and the possibility of a three-day weekend opens up his options. He also said that he wants to take advantage of enrichment time on Fridays for tutoring and college visits and to work on projects.

"The opportunities are limitless," Herring said.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5054. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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