FORT VALLEY — During the school year, Mondays in this rural Georgia community are for video games, trips to grandma's house and hanging out at the neighborhood community center.
Don't bother showing up for school. The doors are locked and the lights are off.
Peach County is one of more than 120 school districts across the country where students attend school just four days a week, a cost-saving tactic gaining popularity among cash-strapped districts struggling to make ends meet. The 4,000-student district started shaving a day off its weekly school calendar last year to help fill a $1 million budget shortfall.
It was that or lay off 39 teachers the week before school started, said Superintendent Susan Clark.
"We're treading water," Clark said as she stood outside the headquarters of her seven-school district. "There was nothing else for us to do."
The results? Test scores went up.
So did attendance — for both students and teachers. The district is spending one-third of what it once did on substitute teachers, Clark said.
And the graduation rate likely will be more than 80 percent for the first time in years, Clark said.
The four days that students are in school are slightly longer and more crowded with classes and activities. After school, students can get tutoring in subjects where they're struggling.
On their off day, students who don't have other options attend "Monday care" at area churches and the local Boys & Girls Club, where tutors are also available to help with homework. The programs generally cost a few dollars a day per student.
Experts say research is scant on the effect of a four-day school week on student performance. In fact, there is mostly just anecdotal evidence in reports on the trend with little scientific data to back up what many districts say, said University of Southern Maine researcher Christine Donis-Keller.