Board Of Education Reviews Plan Tonight
East Lyme — Three parents who met late last week with school administrators said they believe the plan for an extended school day can be rescinded, and they intend to bring a throng of parents and teachers to tonight's Board of Education meeting to protest it.
The meeting is at 7 p.m. in the high school's INTV, or media, room.
The group also intends to criticize the process by which an arts block is being added to the elementary school day.
Lydia and Jeff Benedict and Andy Pappas, all parents of children at the Niantic Center School, met with the superintendent, assistant superintendent, two school board members, and at least one other administrator on Thursday. The meeting lasted more than four hours.
“I came away with the sense that it's not a done deal and there may still be a chance to undo it,” Lydia Benedict said.
At a town meeting held April 13, some parents said they would vote against the town budget, which includes the school budget, if the plan for the arts block is included. Lydia Benedict said some parents will stop in at the Board of Finance meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in the high school library to repeat that promise.
The arts block, which is supposed to start next school year, will add 25 minutes to the school day, 15 in the morning and 10 at the end. The idea is to give students instruction in art, music, and language that the school doesn't have time for.
Critics of the plan say Superintendent Jack Reynolds wants the block because the school got a middling rating in its educational reference group — or ERG — when comparing its instructional time to that of other schools with similar demographics.
They say the schedule only includes two days of the arts block and the other three days are unaccounted for and will instead be devoted to mathematics and other curriculum designed to boost test scores.
“We don't need 25 minutes,” said one teacher who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. “We could absolutely do it in a regular amount of time. But we wouldn't be at the top of our ERG if we did that.”
Reynolds denied that three days are unaccounted for and would be used for other subjects. He said the block gives students time for arts, language, and music that they wouldn't get. He said the time in the arts block is “academically relaxing” and alleviates stress on students.
Reynolds said teachers were included from the beginning, adding that it was up to the school board if the plan is scrapped.
Jeff Benedict has formally requested a copy of a letter of censure sent to a Flanders School teacher, a result, Benedict said, of that teacher's criticism of the extended school day.
Teacher Andy Dousis, who is also the high school's varsity football coach, was vocal in his disapproval of the plan last year. Dousis and Reynolds confirmed on Monday that Dousis had received the letter.
Dousis declined to comment on specifics.
“If you were censured, would you be talking to a reporter?” he asked.
Reynolds said the letter had nothing to do with Dousis' criticism.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We do not in any way, shape, or form censure people for (debate).”
Dousis has requested a one-year leave of absence for the 2005-2006 school year. He said it was for personal reasons and said he would continue to coach the football team.
Mike Devanney, president of the teachers' union, called the addition of the 25 minutes a “fait accompli” and said teachers did not “have any control over the 25 minutes and whether they do it or not.”
Devanney said the item was not a negotiation or a collective bargaining item because the time allotment did not extend the contract hours. He said the teachers received an agreement to delay the program for a year and guarantees about the busing schedule being on time. He said teachers are also supposed to receive a planning period during the day.
Devanney said teachers also will sit on in a committee that will oversee the new shift, with meetings beginning today.
The first issue is how to fit the block into classroom schedules.
Devanney said he has not heard from teachers recently and said he was satisfied they had had an adequate chance to give their input.