The following is a portion of the March 9, 2015 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.
9:40 p.m. – Karen Cecere and Linda Garvey Miller, current kindergarten teachers in Westford, came to the microphone.
Miller said that expectations have changed since she began 24 years ago. Then, the only expectation was having the students writing their name, but then there was no curriculum.
Both said they do their job in terms of the curriculum, but there have been sacrifices since the curriculum is mandatory.
Cecere said that only 12 of the 24 students she has don’t do extended day, stating that’s just the nature of having both parents working. She said that those children are in school from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Miller said that the curriculum is great, but it is rather stressful for the students and they often feel like failures.
Cecere said that at this age, six hours is a lot for children. Play time is needed.
9:46 p.m. – School Committee Member Erika Kohl asked if students are being overloaded. The teachers said this was the case.
Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery said the purpose of this initiative isn’t to add more information for the students but to help achieve the optimal result: presenting information to students in small groups at a comfortable pace.
Superintendent Bill Olsen reiterated that the goal isn’t to “cram information.”
Clery noted that there are fewer standards in Common Core, but there’s a greater expectation to go in-depth.
9:49 p.m. – School Committee Member Arthur Benoit noted that all teachers at all grades say there is not enough time in a day. He then asked the teachers if the curriculum would have grown to this point, saying it’s an expectation and that new content will be added to the curriculum if the day is extended.
Miller noted that reinforcement is not given for math due to current time limitations.
Benoit said it’s naïve to think that there would be non-curriculum items added if the day was extended. That was not being disputed, only that it would be slower.
It was also noted that recess is needed.
School Committee Member Terence Ryan asked what the ideal day is, Cecere said it’s different for everyone.
School Committee Member David Keele asked if there could be a program could be offered to help parents obtain full-day kindergarten. He said there has been a focus on offering full-day kindergarten in an “all or nothing” mode, but that there are some people saying that they don’t want that.
School Committee Chairman Tom Clay said there could be a pilot, although it was noted that 84 percent of the survey participants wanted full-day and 55 percent were willing to pay.
However, it was noted that an exact number for the fee was not included in the survey. In Groton, the cost is $5,000 and that amount might impact people’s opinions on fees.
Keele noted that there is likely a bias for parents going into kindergarten just like there is a bias against full-day kindergarten by parents whose children are already through kindergarten.
He said he would have been surprised it had been different and what is needed is options.
Olsen said that this issue will likely require compromise of some sort.
Keele doesn’t think options would be compromise.
Olsen saying that is not easy to implement in a quick period and it is not recommended for the next school year, but rather the 16’-17’ School Year.
Space problems at the Nabnasset School and additional planning is needed.
9:59 p.m. – Four more people were recognized and then additional comments would go to another meeting.
Amanda Draper of Oak Hill Road works in a modified extended day program and supports full-day for her children.
She says there are better results when conversations and choice is given to students, which is lost in half-day.
She also noted that people should realize kindergarten classrooms look different than those for older children.
Clay noted that the proposal is to depressurize the day rather than expand its content.
Draper noted that half-day students have diminished fine motor skills.
Olsen elaborated on the issues with fine motor skills and that play time is important at that age and it’s important to look at important goals.
Wendy Ditmarz of Joyce Circle – asked if the the 84 percent amount would change if people had to pay. She said this approach doesn’t help children who do better with half-day kindergarten and all children need options that help them in a developmentally appropriate way.
She also noted looking at MCAS scores, but not looking at children with anxiety issues. Then she noted that other grades are important developmentally.
There was applause then Keele asked if it is important to offer choices for parents.
Duvalos said that it’s important for kids to have a life outside of school and that a life outside of school is needed for developmental appropriateness.
She noted that anxiety is a big issue and it shouldn’t be ignored.
10:06 p.m. – Clay said that Westford is not excellent at measuring wellness. One of his first memories on the School Committee was Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli talking about wellness. He said there is a dialogue about it now.
Michelle Hoglan of Magnolia Drive had her child get into full-day kindergarten, saying she thought she won the lottery. She wants her other child to get into full-day as well.
She became a member of the Full-Day Kindergarten Citizens Advisory Committee despite the fact that it was not to be biased and she noted how much full-day helped her son.
Not every kid is used to a full-day she said, but some are and for those kids, a half-day would be a detriment.
She asked that the School Committee makes a decision and not have it be tabled.
Then there was applause.
10:10 p.m. – School Committee Member Margaret Murray asked Clay to note that this will not be tabled given the level of input and focus on this issue.
An unnamed person then came to the podium saying she was concerned with 60 students in one classroom, which could happen with the open concept at the Robinson School.
Last year, this person’s child had emotional issues and asked if there would be more paraprofessionals to work with children that have behavioral issues.
Olsen said an issue would be what additional specialists would be needed and noted when the Robinson School had 750 students and nobody could hear anything.
Benoit shared a story that changed him: his son had a friend over in third grade who had Asperger’s and he was totally unprepared to deal with this. These children were locked away in another part of the school and when he was introduced into classrooms with normal children, Benoit was unsure what to do, but the students were able to accommodate the special needs student.
The unnamed person said it was difficult with more children, but Benoit said that if they are not exposed to that, they will never know how to deal with it.
10:15 p.m. – Clay said the next preliminary steps are looking at more options and that a vote will not be taken until after School Committee elections.
He apologized that the process was a bit amorphous.
Kohl asked if there could be a discussions of what options there could be. Clay said that was a great idea, and urged parents to keep involved.
Benoit asked to have preliminary discussions with the Finance Committee and Town Manager and Selectmen early regarding future budgets.
Olsen said that their focus now is on Town Meeting this month. In the past, the School Department have waited until Town Meeting adjourned.
10:19 p.m. – Clay told parents about future space utilization discussions at future meetings.
10:20 p.m. – There was a short break, and then next year’s school calendar was approved after a brief discussion.
There were minor changes to the calendar for Jewish holidays.
10:23 p.m. – Avery Adam of Providence Road and Chris Sanders of Koala Bear Lane, two candidates for the School Committee, introduced themselves.
10:24 p.m. – Minutes were approved, payroll warrants were approved. Superintendent Bill Olsen provided an update on staff.
School Committee Member Margaret Murray asked if a teacher was on leave to pursue a post-graduate degree. This was confirmed.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:25 p.m.