INOLA — One Inola High School classroom functions as storage space for the Larry the Longhorn mascot, a meeting point for the cheerleading team and a place for athletic department fundraising.
The beef jerky and candy on Sara Eagleton’s desk and the unmanned Larry costume in the corner demonstrate some of the many hats a small-town teacher has to wear. Eagleton only gets to wear them four days a week.
Inola Public Schools is among the 91 school districts in the state that go to school only four days a week, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
This is the second school year for the four-day schedule in Inola. Each high school class period was lengthened by 15 minutes. There is no class on Mondays.
At first, Eagleton was apprehensive about what the four-day week would bring and how hard it would be, what students would be able to retain and how the curriculum in her classes — English — would have to change.
“If anything, it actually helped me focus and gave me a drive to keep going at a quick pace,” Eagleton said. “... Also pick and choose a piece of literature that can cover more than one standard at a time.”
One of those choices was “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller over “The Scarlet Letter.”
“’The Scarlet Letter’ would’ve been difficult to do on a four-day week because if you have Saturday, Sunday, Monday off, when you come back Tuesday to go over a difficult text again and refresh, where with ‘The Crucible’ the students are more engaged with it,” Eagleton said.
“The Crucible,” a story about the 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials, has allowed Eagleton to explore with her students what a mob mentality looks like and how the hysteria alive in colonial Salem can be seen today.
She loves that part of teaching English: the power of literature and the life lessons that can shine through.
Teaching was a lifelong calling for Eagleton, something she knew she wanted to do once she started coaching cheerleading as a teenager.
“It’s just something that I realized that I was made to do,” she said. “I tried to push it (teaching) back because I knew how Oklahoma was.”
But she became a teacher. And now she and tens of thousands of others are waiting a new, proposed $5,000 pay raise. Eagleton looks at news of a potential pay hike with positively-tinted skepticism.
“I’m always hopeful every time I see a headline, but I am very hesitant to believe it,” Eagleton said.
The state’s common education funding woes are the reason why Inola Public Schools is where it is. The district has lost 12 teachers to attrition and gained 100 students since 2008, Superintendent Kent Holbrook said.
Going to a four-day week has saved the district about $200,000 a year and the jobs of about five teachers, Holbrook said. The district also privatized its cafeteria operations, saving more cash.
However, “crisis funding” forced the district’s hand. Not going to a four-day week would have meant more job cuts and higher class sizes.
“We did it because I think that putting 30 or more first-graders in a class is going to be bad for the kids,” Holbrook said.
If funding returned, however, it is not a certainty that Inola would go back to five days a week.
Holbrook said some people argue that the four-day week is bad for students, while others see it the opposite way.
He said the district would evaluate with the community whether or not going back to five days would be the right thing to do.