At Monday night’s School Committee meeting, Superintendent of Schools Lisa Howard voiced her concerns over the growing kindergarten class sizes.
“Having 26-5-year-olds and two adults in one room is stuffy,” said Howard, who also emphasized the challenges with bathroom logistics and herding a large group of young students from one end of the school to the other.
“Not all classrooms have bathrooms, which requires the teacher or ESP (Educational Support Personnel), to escort the student to the bathroom, resulting in a classroom that has one teacher responsible for 25 students for a brief period of time. Incoming kindergarteners enter the district with a wide array of know-how, where some are just learning to hold a pencil and others are already reading. Some need assistance with getting on chairs and additional instruction when it comes to a multitude of different tasks.,” Howard said.
The growing classroom size evolved when nine new kindergarten students registered after Sept. 1 of the 2018-2019 school year, resulting in all classrooms having 26 students enrolled. While each classroom has a teacher and a full-time ESP (Educational Support Personnel), the space in the room alone is cause for concern. The inflation is one that has been a major worry for parents and teachers and has led Howard to engage in detailed conversations and brainstorming sessions with Gorman Fort Banks Principal Ilene Pearson, the six kindergarten teachers, as well as Town Manager, Austin Faison.
“My office is well aware of the issues facing the kindergarten classes in the Winthrop School District,” said Faison. “Superintendent Howard has kept me in the loop, as well as Council President Vecchia. I look forward to the development of a solution in the very near future, and I have been exploring funding options.”
In addition, the district is obligated to ensure that ELL students get the services that they are entitled to. Currently there are 60 kindergarten students who have home language surveys that indicate that English is not the first language in their home, resulting in the need for ELL screening and potentially direct ELL service. The percentage of students requiring special education service in kindergarten is 17.2 percent which is slightly above the state average.
As a result of the discussions with parents and teachers, Howard came to the following conclusion regarding the impact of safety as well as the process of teaching and learning with a class size of 26 students.
“My recommendation would be to open up a seventh kindergarten classroom. This will require hiring a kindergarten teacher and one ESP and someone who supports the district’s philosophy,” said Howard. “This would break the 156 students up into seven classrooms adjusting the class size to a more manageable number of 22.3. With varying levels of development, it is critical to maintain smaller class sizes for the safety of students and quality of instruction. Kindergarten is the foundation for the next twelve years for these students.”
If the current budget, which is tighter than ever, does not allow for an additional teacher and an additional ESP, one resolution would be to hire six retired teachers on a part-time basis to assist in the kindergarten classrooms. The cost associated with this addition would be $10,000 per teacher, resulting in $60,000. Howard doesn’t feel that this is optimal, and it could be very difficult to find six retired teachers who have experience working with kindergarten students. Adding an additional ESP for each of the six classrooms was also discussed as a potential option, however; that adds another body to an already packed room. The cost of adding an ESP to each classroom would be $25,000 per ESP, resulting in a total added cost of $150,000.
“I’m confident that we will be able to come to a resolution,” said Howard, who believes this will be a collaborative effort between the school and the town. “There are impacts in any change we decide to make, and we want it to have the least amount of impact on the youngest in the school.”
Winthrop is one of 293 communities in the commonwealth that provide free all-day kindergarten, saving families anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per school year. In 2010, the school committee voted to have this benefit available for local students, and it was instituted at the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Prior to this decision, parents were required to pay $2,300 to send their children to the all-day kindergarten program.