ATHENS, Texas — A Henderson County school district is implementing a four-day school week starting this academic year.

The school year for Athens ISD begins Monday, August 5. Students will attend class Monday through Thursday.

Students and staff will have Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays off.

“The number one motivating factor for implementing a four-day instructional week here in Athens is to retain and recruit the very best teachers,” Athens ISD spokeswoman Toni Clay said. “We know that although there are many things that help with learning in the classroom, there’s nothing more important than having the very best teachers you possibly can.”

Clay says the school district’s geographical location can sometimes prove to be challenging when trying to recruit and retain educators.

“Because of where we are, we’re not that far from Dallas, and so we are at a bit of a competitive disadvantage when it comes to salaries,” Clay said.

According to Clay, the new schedule change doesn’t affect the total amount of time kids spend in the classroom and still meets the minimum number of minutes kids are required to be in school.

“There is no sacrifice on instructional time,” Clay said. “We’re just packaging it differently.”

In order to accommodate the new schedule, the academic calendar was extended slightly. Last year, Athens ISD students went back to school on August 15 and ended on May 23. This year, students go back to school August 5 and end on May 28.

In addition, there will be more hours in the school day. For 2019-2020, Athens High School students will attend school from 8:10 a.m. to 4:35 p.m.

Cody Smith is a chemistry teacher with 18 years of teaching experience. He’s been teaching at Athens ISD for five years.

“From a science teacher’s perspective, what I’m most excited about is, the old schedule, I only had 45 minutes to do classes, and labs are really hard to do in a 45-minute period,” Smith said. “Now I have longer time – you have more ability to do longer activities in class, because you have longer time in class.”

Teachers like Smith also argue that this schedule will allow them to plan their weekly lessons on Fridays and still have a two-day weekend with their families.

“People do say we have summers off, (and) we don’t work that many hours. But there’s a lot of time done on your own getting prepared for a good day of lessons,” Smith said. “Personally, I’m going to come up (to school) on Friday afternoon and get ready for the week, and actually have two-day weekends after that.”

But not all parents agree with the new schedule.

Alisha Dennis’s daughter attends Bell Air Elementary as a special needs student. She doesn’t believe the special needs community will benefit from longer school days.

“I just think it’s kind of ridiculous,” Dennis said. “It’s difficult keeping a child maintained (and) focused. How are you going to do it if it was an issue before, and it’s an even longer day so it’s going to be an even harder struggle now.”

Other parents say they oppose the schedule change because now they have to find childcare on Fridays.

Athens ISD tells WFAA some local daycares have offered discounted rates for Friday childcare.

There are some parents, like Emily McGraw, who like the idea of no school on Fridays.

McGraw has a daughter going into third grade at Central Athens Elementary.

“It works out great for my family and our situation,” McGraw said. “We’re very excited to take longer weekend trips. (And utilize) some of the museums that may not be as busy on a Friday versus a Saturday.”

Athens ISD is not the first school district to adopt a four-day instructional week. Some schools in Oklahoma and Colorado have adopted this type of schedule.

Clay says Friday extracurricular activities, including high school football, will not be impacted by this academic schedule change.

In addition, Athens ISD will provide lunch for students on Fridays at Central Athens Elementary.

Clay says the Athens ISD student population is about 3,000. The school district includes one high school, one middle school, and three elementary schools.

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