FALMOUTH — Parents crowded into a classroom and settled into the small chairs at Lunt Elementary School on Tuesday evening to talk with Principal John Flaherty about his decision to switch all kindergarten classes to a 2.5-day schedule next fall.
Under the new plan, Flaherty explained, students on the west side of town will attend school for full days on Tuesdays and Fridays and for half days on Wednesdays. Those from the east side will attend full days on Mondays and Thursdays and half days on Wednesdays.
Some parents wanted to know why the department wasn’t continuing to offer a choice of programs. But Flaherty told the group that after two years of piloting the new program, the School Board required him to make a choice between the new one and the traditional, five half-day program. He said he opted for the 2.5-day program because it gives students about 67 more classroom hours a year.
“No matter what,” he said, “somebody’s going to be disappointed.”
In addition to the extra classroom time, the program will save the district “upwards of $20,000” because it cuts down on the number of bus trips, Flaherty said. He added that he had not based his decision on cost, but on what he believes is best for the children.
The two kindergarten teachers who now teach the 2.5-day program, Kathie Sinnett and Heather Granata, also attended Tuesday’s meeting. They were both enthusiastic about the increased class time, although they will not receive additional pay.
With the 2.5-day schedule, the teachers said they are able to read more books to the children, get through more curriculum and have the opportunity to reinforce lessons, all while maintaining a more relaxed atmosphere because they’re not rushing the children through their day.
Though some parents were concerned about the lack of a daily routine for their children, more appeared to disapprove of the new hours because of inconvenience in finding child care and the additional money it would cost.
But a former kindergarten teacher whose child will be entering kindergaren at Lunt this fall called the new program “the best possible option for kids.” At the same time she acknowledged, “As a parent, I stressed over ‘what am I going to do the other 2 1/2 days with my child?'”
Many also expressed their disapproval of the process, which included a survey for parents who had chosen the pilot program this year, but did not ask for input from those who selected the traditional program.
“The evaluations of the (2.5-day) program were very positive. I wasn’t asked to evaluate the half-day program, but only asked to evaluate the 2.5-day program,” Flaherty said.
If he had the option, Flaherty said he would institute a five full-day program, a statement received with enthusiasm from the parents. But lack of space prevents the full-time program, he said.
“Demands of curriculum have tripled since 10 years ago,” he said. “There are kitchen sets in storage now because they can’t be used anymore. There is not as much play, less singing. … It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact.”
But even when they have the space available with the completion of a new elementary school, he said costs could make it prohibitive to initiate a full-day program.
When asked why the School Board did not have to vote on the decision, Flaherty said it was under his purview because it did not involve an increase in spending or a policy change.
Though he said the decision has been made, several parents expressed interest in challenging it at the next School Board meeting on April 13.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.