Suzanne Michael and Rob Whitman

Kindergarten Citizens’ Committee Reports on Progress

The following is a transcript from the Oct. 6, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the transcript, click here. For a video recap, head to westfordcat.org

7:30 p.m. – The meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance and open forum.

At this point, Chairman Tom Clay asked members of the Kindergarten Citizens’ Committee to speak.

Co-chairs Rob Michael and Suzanne Whitman began to talk about how the citizens’ committee.

Suzanne Michael and Rob Whitman

Suzanne Whitman and Rob Michael

The committee began its work on exploring the pros and cons of full-day kindergarten as well as its costs on Aug. 27.

There are three sub-committees in the citizens’ committee

Additionally, there will be reviews built in with the School Committee to answer questions, seek feedback and provide progress on the goals of the citizens’ committee.

There is a basic framework in place now and when that’s fleshed out a bit more, the citizens’ committee will talk more with the School Committee to see what they want.

Whitman then said that the full committee meets every two weeks, alternating Wednesday and Thursday in the Millennium conference room and at each meeting they give a status on where they are and the sub-committees report out to the rest of the group on milestones and anything else that would be important to know as well as next steps for their sub-committee.

At this point, meetings are expected to be two hours, which will give sub-committees time to meet with each other as well as more time for the committee to meet as a whole.

Sub-committees meet on their own schedules and e-mails are reserved for logistical data.

At this point, representatives from the three sub-committees came forward to present their progress.

Fatih Unlu is part of the Research Review Committee and they are looking at two things. First, is finding relevant research on the effect of Full-Day Kindergarten, using a wide net. The screening had emphasized samples that are relevant for Westford in terms of similar socio-economic status and ethnicity as well as the impact on Spanish-speaking learners.

There are currently ten articles that have been identified.

The second part of the process is the synthesis of the articles, specifically the scientific rigor of them. They will be developing an instrument to compare the studies.

Clay asked other members of the School Committee if the search was broad enough.

School Committee member Erika Kohl asked if the fact that 12 percent of kids go through full-day kindergarten already. Superintendent Bill Olsen said that only certain special needs students currently use it.

Unlu said that the likely focus would be non-special needs students. Initially he said that it would present an interesting research opportunity, but he was afraid of the sample sizes.

If there is a big enough sample of students, it could look at “winners” and “losers” in regard to a lottery if there were districts were there was partial full day kindergarten.

Olsen then made a comment regarding sample sizes.

School Committee member Terence Ryan asked a question about the study with (?) saying they would focus in on studies the School Committee recommended them to look at.

School Committee member Margaret Murray then asked a question about affect sizes.

Clay then said that in the future, materials from the committee would be accessible to the public via Google Drive.

Olsen praised the citizens’ committee for their work.

Sheila Grimm then came up to represent the Student Models subcommittee.

Her subcommittee is looking at demographics to see where student populations will be in five years, talking to faculty members to see what the curriculum is and how much time is being spent in kindergarten and what nearby towns are doing.

Murray then talked about information collected by the state about school districts regarding kindergarten and recommended that they collect that data, saying it had gone back nine years.

School Committee member Arthur Benoit asked if the subcommittee would be going out to other towns to see how they are doing full-day kindergarten now, specifically lessons learned.

Ken Mierz then came up for the Finance and Facilities subcommittee, saying they would look into how buildings would be used to accomplish the task of full-day kindergarten.

Kohl then asked about costs that will be looked at, with Mierz saying that the teachers will be the primary item that’s looked at, as well as things like desks and supplies.

Ryan then asked if there was a cost with redistricting, Olsen said there might be some incremental impact on bussing, both new costs and some costs that could be saved.

Benoit then asked about if they are looking at models that other districts are using to fund full-day kindergarten, he said that’s correct.

Murray then made a comment regarding finance offsets.

Olsen said that the citizens’ committee presents the best of the best and it’s been thoroughly enjoyable having them do their work, although he has not been to any of their meetings beyond the first at the request of the citizens’ committee.

Clay then concluded the discussion.

Bob Price of the League of Women Voters came forward to request to place signs urging voters to come out for Town Meeting on school property.

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