Northborough parents push for free full day kindergarten

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By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

Northborough – The pandemic has changed many areas of the educational experience this year, including snow days, open houses, parent-teacher conferences, and enrollment changes. All were discussed during the Northborough K-8 School Committee meeting on November 4. Parents are also urging the School Committee to approve free full day kindergarten next school year instead of waiting for 2023-2024.

    Parents want free full day kindergarten sooner. Although comments made during the audience sharing portion of the School Committee agenda do not require a response, parents were vocal with their desire for free full day kindergarten to start next school year, instead of waiting until the proposed 2023-2024 school year. Southborough and many surrounding towns have implemented free kindergarten.

Pre-COVID, kindergarten tuition has been used to support teacher salaries. The District’s budget plan was to adjust tuition each year until it was fully absorbed into the budget. Tuition was partially reimbursed to parents last spring due to school closures and has been waived this year, while classes are not meeting fully in person.

Learning and achievement gaps and financial hurdles were concerns voiced by parents.

Parent Laura Hovey highlighted that kindergarten will be even more important next year as many parents did not send their child to pre-K this year.

“Take this initiative across the finish line for the next upcoming school year,” she said.

Lauren Fortier currently has a Kindergartener in the hybrid model.

“While the remote days for kindergarteners are half days, I have seen that a half day isn’t enough for their developing brains,” she said. “When thinking about what a kindergarten brain can do and can learn from, it’s a full day that they can grow from. COVID has highlighted more than ever those who have and those who don’t have in so many facets. Families who are more financially stable can afford tutors, child supervision or be able to be home with their children and focus on supporting their children through their learning. As kids return to school in person, I think we will need to make up a big gap and provide a full day of enrichment and interaction for all of our students, not just the families who can afford to pay for that full day.  This is the time to take advantage of that and give to our students as much as we possibly can.”

The School Committee was urged to make this a priority as the District enters budget season.

    Enrollment challenges. The challenges with enrollment are the shifting and moving of students between the two learning models – hybrid and Stand Alone Remote Program (SARP).

“We have a fixed amount of staffing, and when we have significant shifts from the hybrid model to the Stand Alone Remote, it does create a real challenge for us,” said Superintendent Greg Martineau.

Additional SARP teachers will be hired to help to reduce a few of the class sizes primarily in first and fifth grades.

Robert E. Melican Principal Michelle Karb reported that this last month 5 students switched from hybrid to SARP and 2 from SARP to hybrid.

Assistant Superintendent Stefanie Reinhorn said there was a waiting list of about 20 students to go into the K-5 SARP program prior to October 9, and about 10 requesting to switch to hybrid. Currently, a new waiting list of about 8 students exists and transition plans are being developed.

    Virtual events and school traditions continue. Typical school year events have gone virtual including open houses, teacher-parent conferences, and book fairs. Traditions such as spirit days, food drives, and annual projects for Veterans Day will continue.

Principals commented that building relationships has been the priority.

Marguerite E. Peaslee Elementary School Principal Dr. Mary Coakley said that they are partnering with parents more than ever to provide support.

“We’ve started a networking meeting with parents at Peaslee,” she said. “It’s a way to bring parents together to talk about some meaningful things, to share ideas and explore practices together.”

Fannie E. Proctor Elementary School Principal Alana Cyr said that their annual Turkey Trot will be held in the hybrid model and in the SARP model “so there is a connection for all the students in donating needed food items in the community.”

    Snow days will be remote days. The surprise snow storm in October was a reminder that the winter season is fast approaching. State guidance has indicated that typical snow days will revert to remote learning days with the exception of a power loss.

        The full meeting can be viewed on the Northborough Cable YouTube channel.