NORWALK, Conn. – First-grader Tia Arnett was among the Norwalk children returning to school Wednesday, children who described a fun first day filled with light activities, such as reading, coloring and going to recess.
Parents said they were happy but concerned. "I'm thrilled. I'm wishing the budget cuts weren't as steep, but I'm thrilled for my free time," Fox Run Elementary mother Jodi Przybisiki said with a laugh.
Norwalk's schools opened Wednesday for first- through sixth-graders, high school freshmen, Brien McMahon High School seniors and half the kindergartners. Those kindergartners will stay home Thursday while their future classmates get a turn. Other than that, all of Norwalk's children will be back at school.
The day went smoothly, Fox Run Principal James Martinez and Brookside Elementary Principal David Hay said, attributing that to good preparation by teachers. Hay went further: Only one child was leftover after dismissal, and there had been no phone calls from parents. "I don't know if this has ever happened," he said.
Norwalk's elementary schools bore the brunt of budget cuts this year, causing many to predict an exodus from Norwalk. Two Fox Run mothers said they are still considering whether to leave and said many had.
"I think that's perception," said Martinez. Fox Run has 40 fewer students, he said, but he doesn't think that is an unusual drop because people often change districts.
The school has lost three classroom teachers, a literacy specialist and an intervention aide, he said. The assistant principal and librarian are now half-day employees.
"I guess because I'm the eternal optimist, I don't see it as challenges as much as I see it as a readjustment and a shift," Martinez said. "We're sustaining what we've been doing, and even seeking to improve whatever we've been doing. ... The attitude is we'll just make it work."
His fourth-grade classes average 19 to 20 kids per room; there are 21 to 22 kids in fifth-grade classes, though one class has 24 students.
"I'm worried about overcrowding, but I think with a lot of parent involvement it will help tremendously," said Przybisiki, who has children in kindergarten and second grade. "If parents can step up to volunteer where they can and also just be involved in their children's homework and daily routines."
A total of 20 fewer people, which includes retirees, resignations and transfers, are working at Brookside this year, Hay said. With four fewer teachers, classroom sizes are running 24 to 26 students, he said.
The school's library will be open only every other week, Brookside mother Lisa DeVingo says. "We've had an increase in class size, we've had administrator and teacher cuts," she said. "It's the children that suffer, especially at the library. ... We lost some of our best teachers, and I think things could have been done differently."
She was happy, though, that her son Aidan, a fourth-grader, was back in school.
"I'm a parent," she said. "Do I need to say anything else? The summer is great to have them home with you, but the days start to get very long."