MILFORD - The Board of Education will decide in February whether to extend a program through which students are dismissed two hours early 10 times a year for teachers to brainstorm best practices.

But school officials said that if the program continues, it may be tweaked, as there could be a future need to extend the school day or year to ensure instructional time is not sacrificed.

Acting Superintendent of Schools R. Michael Cummings said he thinks the program is invaluable and necessary if Milford “wants to have the best school system … to compete with Fairfield County schools.” Cummings said giving staff dedicated time to brainstorm ideas will help students learn.

Critics of the program, however, say students are missing valuable instructional time, which is necessary when tests scores are on the decline, especially at the high schools.

Parent Jack Fowler, a vocal critic of the program, said the half days are a “joke.”

“I have not met a single teacher in Milford who has not implied it’s a joke,” Fowler said. “It’s aimless. I’m sure it’s well-intended. But this is the educational equivalent to Cash for Clunkers.”

Fowler said it costs $12 an hour to educate each of the district’s 7,200 students, and thus eliminating 20 hours of instructional time costs taxpayers more than $1.7 million a year.

The school board three years ago adopted a schedule at the high school through which students came to school three hours later on 10 days, so staff could meet to discuss teaching methods. This year, the program has been amended to include elementary and middle schools. However, students are now dismissed two hours early on 10 days.

Cummings said having the early dismissal allows staff to meet while they still have energy to be engaged. He said having staff meet after school after teaching for 6½ hours would not lead to any new ideas. Cummings said the goal of the program is to come up with new ideas that will help Milford leapfrog other districts academically.

School board Chairman Mark Stapleton, R-1, suggested the boardlookatextendingtheschool day or school year, because some parents are concerned about the loss of instruction time.

"There is a crunch for time," Stapleton said. "It’s critically important that teachers can meet to share ideas to come to more common successful approaches. A lot of people misunderstand and think it’s just a half day. It’s serious work taking place."

Cummings said any changes to the school day would have to be negotiated with the unions. He said he understands concerns about loss of instructional time, but added "change is slow too happen."

"Losing instructional time hurts," Cummings said. "But the advances in skill sets will compensate for the lost time."

Jonathan Law High School Principal Janet Garagliano said conversations among staff members lead to "best practices," and provide frank discussion and ideas.

But Fowler maintained students need to be in the classroom because test scores at every level are stagnant or declining, especially at the high schools.

Yet Cummings said there have been positive changes, and the "real purpose is focusing on the needs of the kids."