A change from a five- to a six-day rotating schedule was proposed on Tuesday, April 23, to ease the enrollment crunch on the elementary schools, but it didn't receive rave reviews from the Board of Education.

Judith Pandolfo, Darien assistant superintendent of schools, offered a solution to the increase in sections that has put pressure on the capacities at the elementary schools.

"I'm not convinced about the six-day schedule," school board Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross said.

The plan would allow for more adequate space for physical education classes, Pandolfo said, and it would add another foreign language section, which would include a part-time World Language teacher.

However, the changes would decrease the amount of annual time spent in music and gym classes.

"I don't see how a reduction of PE on any level is a positive thing," board member Morgan Whittier said. He also expressed a problem with the reduction in music time.

"If someone is going to be a musician, this will be their introduction," Whittier said.

As of now, students have two 45-minute periods of gym and music each week and one 45-minute period for a World Language each week.

A six-day schedule would add an additional 45-minute World Language class for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

Fifth-graders in Darien have 48 hours per year for music and gym, according to Darien's latest Strategic School Profile, which exceeds the 41-hour state average for gym and 33 hours for music.

The six-day schedule would decrease gym and music to 45 hours of instruction per year for third- through fifth-graders.

Hagerty-Ross also said adding another World Language section to a program that was implemented less than a year ago is not the best solution. The World Language program was adopted last year to allow for one 45-minute Spanish class once a week for students in kindergarten through grade five.

"You're asking to cut time from music and PE to add time to the foreign language program," she said.

Whittier expressed similar concerns with adding to the foreign language program, which was implemented last year.

"You don't have enough data to justify the change in one year," Whittier said.

At Hindley Elementary School, there are two gym sections that take place at the same time. However, one section must use the common area across the hall from the gym because of a lack of space, according to Rita Ferri, Hindley Elementary School principal.

"The fact is that we're so packed together that there is no breathing room," Pandolfo said. "Even if you added more staff, the space issues don't go away."

Superintendent Stephen Falcone supported Pandolfo's proposal.

"We're looking to maximize what we can," Falcone said. "We see this as a very reasonable approach. It's about trying to do your best and understanding your constraints."

But the majority of the board did not share Falcone's sentiments.

"I don't feel comfortable with this," member Clara Sartori said. "Has this been presented to the parents?"

A discussion with parents would take place after the proposed changes were presented to the board, Pandolfo said.

"We don't feel that this is a negotiable kind of thing," Pandolfo added. "We could ask parents if they like it or they don't like it, but the reality is that their kids are learning in a less-than-ideal setting."

James Plutte was the only board member to vocally agree with the proposed changes and suggested that the board "defer to (the administration's) expertise" and that the "overall benefits outweigh the tradeoffs."

"To do nothing is not a good answer either," board member Susan Perticone said.

Board member Michael Harman asked Pandolfo if there are alternatives to the six-day schedule.

"There are no alternatives," Pandolfo said.

The board will discuss the proposal again at its next meeting with a greater emphasis on why the changes need to be made, Hagerty-Ross said.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4407; @Meg_DarienNews

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