BOE weighs lengthening kindergarten schedule
School officials and parents presented widely different views to the Board of Education on Monday night over whether the town should extend its kindergarten schedule to five full days of school a week, starting this fall.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Elliott Landon and four of the town's elementary school principals all favored the move, while parents in attendance uniformly opposed it.
The board will vote on the measure -- which central administration officially recommended to the board on May 3 -- at its meeting on May 17, at 7:30 p.m. in the Staples High School cafeteria.
On Monday night, Board of Education members mulled several issues regarding the proposed change, but gave few indications as to how they will vote. Michael McGovern and Sandy DeFelice repeatedly said they were looking for a "magic bullet" that would convince them to vote for the resolution. Combing through scholarly research, they said, hadn't helped, as arguments both for and against extending kindergarten hours are well represented.
Board members disagreed as to whether the preponderance of e-mails from parents and faculty were in support of or opposed to the move. Members raised several questions during their discussion period. Among them: Would the extra four hours of instruction every week overburden kindergarten teachers, or keep them from helping their school in other capacities? How could those four hours of instruction best be spent? Can 4- and 5-year-olds really handle the extra school time? And if they can, would it be better spent at school, or at their leisure with family?
Renae Martin, who has a first grader at Green's Farm Elementary and a preschooler, said she would rather her children "go out and play with the worms" than stay in school four extra hours a week. "How many people here feel they have enough free time in their lives?" she asked. No hands went up. "So why are we teaching our children this lesson so early?"
Rebecca Hunt, a mother of five, said that having five full days of kindergarten was one reason her family moved out of New York City and came to Westport recently. In New York, she said, her children went to an "amazing" school where kindergartners shared in the full schedule. "I loved the teachers there, but the extra time they had with my children did nothing," she said. "But those four hours are extremely important to me. Those are four hours I can have with my daughter."
The four elementary school principals in attendance -- Melissa Paolini-Kay of Coleytown, Rex Jones of Long Lots, John Bayers of Green's Farm and Robert Buckley of Saugatuck -- said that the added class time would help teachers better personalize their lesson plans and bring slower-developing children more quickly in line with their peers. Buckley said he would spend the new time with the kindergartners working primarily on "numeracy and literacy."
On Tuesday morning, Landon pointed out to the Westport News that Darien, Easton and New Canaan all have five full days of a kindergarten each week and that the Ridgefield Board of Education approved a similar resolution in March.
"We always compare ourselves and we've got some of the best districts in this region who are already on that five-day, full-day schedule, so there's got to be a reason for it," he said.
In February 2007, the Board of Education approved a resolution that extended the kindergarten schedule to three full-days of school a week. Kindergarten now runs from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday and Friday, and 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
School officials and some parents said on Monday night that kindergartners have adjusted to that change well, particularly as the school year progresses. But several parents noted that, while their children may be fine on Tuesday, they're much more fatigued on Thursdays. Nearly every parent who spoke on Monday -- there were eight -- said that, while their children may make it through the long school days, they step off the bus in the afternoon out of energy.
"My son came home last year" -- with three long days of kindergarten -- "completely exhausted, sometimes in tears, thinking that the long days were a punishment and [because of that] he needed relief from me," said Barbara Byrne-McGovern, who has a first grader at Coleytown Elementary and another child in preschool.
Susanne Armstrong, a mother of five, called her family an ideal test case. Three of her children have completed kindergarten in Westport, she said, two with the old schedule and one with the current one.
"[The new schedule] has not impacted them academically or socially," she said. "It has only taken away their free time; made them more tired, cranky and stressed; and given them one hour more a day on the bus."
Asked to respond to the parents' comments on Tuesday, Landon said that, while those in attendance at the Board of Education meeting opposed the resolution, he's heard from more parents, through e-mails or in person, who are in favor of switching to the five-full-days-a-week schedule.
"The only people who came out to speak [on Monday] were that small group who were opposed," he said. "There's an incredibly silent group out there who've contacted my office who have highly supported it."
He added that no one in attendance Monday called for repealing the three-full-days-a-week schedule that's been in place since 2007. "When you put a practice into place that's beneficial to kids, once it's implemented, people embrace it," he said.
Concession stand gift accepted
Later on Monday night, the board unanimously voted to approve two resolutions.
The first was to accept a $250,000 gift from the Staples High School Diamond Club and the Staples High School Gridiron Club to construct a new two-story concession stand and coaches' offices, which will be built on the site of the existing concession stand at the high school.
The second was to add ING Life Insurance and Annuity Company (ING) as an additional investment vendor for the Section 457 Plan for eligible Westport Public Schools employees who wish to remit contributions to their 457 Plan for investment through ING.