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Can You Hear the People Sing?

The test for Wilton's Board of Education—are you listening to the will of the people who elected you?

Once upon a time, there was a school district in a tony Connecticut town that starts with the letter ‘W.’ This was a very desirable school district, with residents who cited the high-quality education as a prime reason for moving to the leafy, hilly, bucolic town.

The students were almost all high-achievers, with parents who had high expectations for their children’s futures. Very little was left to chance for these students, and valued above almost every other thing was the reputation of the education these kiddies received, from high school on down, all the way to kindergarten.

Even the children’s extracurricular activities were well supported, as would be in a community such as this. Athletic competition and achievement held a special place in the hearts of the townsfolk, and their children were active in many a test of human agility, endurance and sporting play.

The expectations placed on those who cared for and taught the children—in school and after school—were very high, and those grown-ups were held to high standards. The level of teaching was expected to be worth the price of high taxes and any extra fees and tuitions that the parents paid. In exchange, parents hoped to see their youngsters reach lofty goals and excel.

Because the demands were high on those brave teachers who were charged with educating the townspeople’s children, the citizens were willing to bestow worthy salaries to attract the best minds in the field of education. It’s not surprising that those given the responsibility to lead and to teach would have a depth of experience and knowledge to bestow on the youngsters of the town, because only the best and brightest teachers were good enough for the best and brightest children of the town.

But curiously, over time, some divisions arose between the parents and the educators. They sometimes disagreed over what each believed to be the best approaches in a particular area of schooling. Some parents felt the teachers no longer heard their wants for the children of the town; some teachers felt they had the expertise and knew better than the parents.

Periodically, there arose discord across the land. Decisions were made by the educators “on behalf of the children,” and louder rumblings of disagreement began to emanate from the villagers’ dwellings. “This isn’t what we want!” some of them cried. Others pushed for protest, for a more organized revolt against the educators’ stance.

It appeared to some of the villagers that the educators grew more firm in their resistance to any change in their approach. “We’re sticking with this plan,” the educators said. “We have only the best interest of your children at heart.”

Would the two sides ever see eye-to-eye? Could there possibly be some mutual understanding or negotiation for middle ground between the parents and the teachers?

It’s not what you think.

My fable actually isn’t about Wilton, but it is about Weston.

Just last week, Weston’s school administrators discovered that the coach of their high school boys basketball team, Mike Hvizdo, had appeared in a short video that school officials deemed to be “full of vulgarity, explicit sexual behavior, and raunchy language,” according to Weston’s school superintendent Colleen Palmer, who spoke at a Board of Education meeting one week ago. Reports of what happened conflict—either Palmer fired Hvizdo after learning about the video, or asked for his resignation—but either way it was decided by administrators that Hvizdo could not “be a role model” for his students and he had to go.

Weston parents, as well as the students, mobilized to the coach’s defense, demanding that he be reinstated. About 100 residents showed up at the Weston BoE meeting on Feb. 25 to support the coach. Just this past Friday morning, ABC’s “Good Morning America” profiled Hvizdo’s fight to get his job back and the backing he had from parents. The crescendo of support seemed to have rung loud and clear to administrators:  Hvizdo was reinstated by Friday afternoon.

The fable might not have been about Wilton—but it could have been.

Wilton’s most recent stand-off between parents and school administrators concerns the question of Full Day kindergarten. The change in educational approach for Wilton’s youngest students—from its current “Extended Day” (three short days, two long days) to “Full Day” (five long days for all students) has been proposed by Miller-Driscoll principal Cheryl Jensen-Gerner, and supported by Dr. Gary Richards, the superintendent of Wilton’s schools.

At the last Board of Education meeting, Mrs. Jensen-Gerner had three current kindergarten teachers as well as a reading specialist with her to speak in favor of lengthening every school day for kindergarteners starting in the 2013-2014 school year. While a couple of parents spoke in support of the plan, a majority who made comments during public remarks were staunchly opposed. Several of the parents who spoke have since organized an online petition asking that a move to full day kindergarten be put off for next year.

The topic actually has been debated several times over for the last few months, at general BoE meetings as well as at special meetings held by principal Jensen-Gerner at the school itself.  Board chairman Bruce Likely has said the issue will likely come up for a final vote before the BoE at the board’s next meeting this Thursday, March 7, 7:00 p.m..   

If it matters one way or the other to you, now is the time to voice your opinion. Now is the time to speak to the board with your thoughts on whether or not Wilton should adopt the same plan that several other school districts in our District Reference Group (DRG) have adopted. Now is the time to let the board know whether or not you think our current Extended Day program is what sets us apart—above or below—our surrounding towns.

It’s up to you to express your views to the board, either in person at the meeting or via email, at boe@wilton.k12.ct.us.

I wrote two years ago in support of full Day Kindergarten.  After listening to both sides of the argument during recent meetings, I am still hopeful that the board considers passing it—but perhaps not this year. I am worried that some of the plans for how a Full Day curriculum will be implemented haven’t been studied fully. Will the impact on first and second graders be too much because of additional time reading specialists need to presumably spend with kindergarteners? How will the new schedule approach incorporate specials for the students? Will the emphasis in the afternoons be more or less academic for students? At the last BoE meeting one of the board members raised this question and didn’t seem to get a clear answer.

Perhaps the lesson from Weston’s recent experience with parents putting pressure on school officials will come to bear on our school district at the BoE meeting this Thursday:  what do the majority of parents feel about the proposed Full Day Kindergarten plan, and are they prepared to have the substantial change happen starting next year? If not, and if significant enough numbers of parents express their disagreement with the plan proposed by administrators, is the school board ready to delay instituting this plan because they’ve heard the parents who vehemently oppose it?

Can they hear the people sing? And what is the song that will be sung?

Andrew Ziemba March 05, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Children do not spend enough time with their parents as it is. What it all comes down to is a horribly flawed societal shift where we have abandoned our children and youth as a nation. I am sad for those who are ignorant of this very obvious fact. Most parents are in favor of having their children lavishly pampered through entitlements at the expense of everyone. After all, it's their RIGHT isn't it? Our entire society is based off of the notion that you should take everything you possibly can and contribute as little as you possibly can, all while making someone ELSE pay for as much as possible. This is how local, state, and federal government runs. This is how the IRS works too, and you'd have to be a fool not to follow their handouts, write offs, and bonuses correctly. The simple solution (the correct solution as well) which the tiny minority has already concluded long ago (the intelligent AND moral folks out there that is) is to simplify the system so that you only pay for what you want to pay for and apply it to everything. When you order a steak do you want to get a burrito, foot long dub, and Dom Perignon included? Or do you just get the steak? Of course those nasty anarchists and libertarians have such radical beliefs such as "theft at the barrel of a gun is immoral". Theft is only OK if the government is the one doing it. Right?
Andrew Ziemba March 05, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Full day kindergarten sounds great for a parent who doesn't want to raise/ get to know/ help their kid grow up and is clearly "encumbered" by them. Sounds horrible for the kid. People who are excited at the opportunity to send their children to even regular kindergarten shouldn't have children in the first place.
Andrew Ziemba March 05, 2013 at 11:53 PM
Majority rules. Har har har. Gee I wonder who will win the fight, the two wolves or the sheep? *Sigh* astonishing that in the year 2013 we still follow such an archaic and barbaric system of government, all while avoiding the vestiges of a Republic and all laws associate with being a Republic.
Connecticut15 March 08, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Richie Aprile - while there are options to enrolling into public school, all residents are entitled to voice their concern or opposition to what may appear to be an expedited process without full disclosure or full information and which may escalate financial costs. All residents have the right to ask for cost benefit analyses. It appears that that may have helped uncover that there was no cost savings or benefits, but actually far more costs to implement the fiber optic project. What are the costs of additional aides in the classrooms, not just annually, but in the long term? Are there contract obligations that affect the costs or limit the town's ability to alter hiring after engaging additional hires if the plan needs tweaking? How many people were aware that contracts apparently do not allow the town to replace a hired individual such as a library aide with a volunteer? Does that really give the town the financial flexibility it needs in these tenuous economic times.
Connecticut15 March 08, 2013 at 05:11 PM
You are right, Concerned Citizen.

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