Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon has proposed earlier start and dismissal times for classes at Coleytown Elementary School to align more closely with schedules at the town's other public schools -- a plan getting mixed reaction from parents.
"The question that has come up -- and I think it's a legitimate question -- is how can we make CES more consistent with the other schools rather than be an outlier," Landon said at a March 4 Board of Education meeting.
Classes at Coleytown Elementary currently start at 8:45 a.m. and finish at 3:30 p.m., the latest starting and dismissal times among the town's eight public schools.
To address that disparity, Landon and other education have drafted four alternative schedules that would each establish an earlier schedule for Coleytown Elementary. Of those four options, only of them would not cost the school district more money. That budget-neutral schedule, known as Plan I, would push up Coleytown Elementary's start time to 8 a.m. That change would put the school on the same timetable as Bedford Middle School and Saugatuck Elementary School. Coleytown Middle School's start time would shift from 7:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Greens Farms Elementary School's start time would move back from 8:15 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Saugatuck Elementary's start would move up from 8:15 a.m. to 8 a.m. The schedules of Staples High School, Bedford Middle, Kings Highway Elementary and Long Lots Elementary schools would remain unchanged.
In a March 4 memo to the education board meeting, Landon expressed his preference for pursuing Plan I. Following that schedule, all eight of the district's schools would start between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m., with no one school starting later than all the others. That schedule would allow Coleytown Middle students to attend after-school activities at Bedford Middle School without any "time pressures," Landon's memo said. It would also maximize participation in professional-development activities involving elementary and middle-school teachers and administrators, Landon's memo added.
The other three proposed schedules would also move up Coleytown Elementary's start time. Each of those three would also change several other schools' schedules, although none of them would affect Staples' current timetable. Those three proposed schedules would each require at least one more school bus and cost from $65,000 to as much as $335,000.
Landon has argued that Coleytown Elementary's current schedule burdens parents because it starts an hour later than Coleytown Middle, the middle school that serves the same section of town. In addition, he has attributed the preponderance of parents picking up their children at the school to their need to take them to after-school activities that are intended to accommodate the other students in the school district who have earlier dismissal times.
"The real issue is the afternoon -- I think that's the worst of the issues," Landon said at the March 4 meeting. "I think it puts an extra strain on the Coley El parents. It makes it more difficult for their kids to be scheduled at the after-school activities. In some ways, I think it also poses somewhat of a safety issue in terms of the mass number of cars coming onto the property."
Education officials acknowledge the difficulty of addressing Coleytown Elementary's late timetable. For instance, suggestions to hold more after-school activities at Coleytown Elementary have not been "successful" because of the school's late schedule and distance from the town center, Landon said in the March 4 memo. Implementing Plan I would also create scheduling challenges, such as planning earlier before-school music programs and academic help sessions at Coleytown Middle.
Parents of Coleytown Elementary and Coleytown Middle students who attended the March 4 school board meeting were divided over Landon's proposal. Among those opposed to earlier start times at those two schools, some expressed concerns that an earlier schedule at Coleytown Middle would be developmentally detrimental for adolescent pupils.
"As a parent of middle schooler, I really see first-hand what happens when they hit that development point where their bodies are demanding much more sleep," said Amy Kaplan, the mother of a Coleytown Elementary student and another who attends Coleytown Middle. "We're talking about 15 minutes for someone whose sleep that is a lot of time."
Other parents voiced support for an earlier start time for Coleytown Elementary, arguing that the current schedule does not maximize their children's educational opportunities.
"It's pretty incontrovertible that young children learn best early in the morning," said Alessia Bell, the mother of a kindergartner at Coleytown Elementary. "My child wastes half an hour at least every morning when she could be learning. She comes home exhausted and she can't do after-school activities because she's exhausted on the other end."
Several education board members have also indicated their interest in reviewing possible schedule revisions at Coleytown Elementary.
"I do think we should spend the time to think of the solution that works for everybody," said Vice Chairman Michael McGovern. "I am not going to be in favor of [Coleytown] middle school starting at 7:30. There's a lot that happens at middle school before class starts."
The Board of Education did not vote at its March 4 meeting on Landon's proposed schedule changes.
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