Westborough schools discuss demand for early childhood education

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Westborough schools discuss demand for early childhood education
Westborough’s Early Childhood Center is located within Hastings Elementary School in town. (Photo/Ben Domaingue)

WESTBOROUGH – With an increased demand for early childhood care, the Westborough Early Childhood Center (WECC) announced last month that it wants to open an eighth classroom.

“This is really the first year that we had such a significant increase in the number of people who have wanted full day,” Early Childhood Director Michele Palermo told the School Committee on Jan. 19.

According to Palermo, staff had received 225 applications for the program. More were coming on a daily basis. 

There were 141 students enrolled in the program and 35 students active on the waiting list, as of that School Committee meeting. 

“This is a year that we have had really a lot of applicants, as I mentioned, and continue to have a good number on our waiting list who continue to reach out to us and ask if we have space,” Palermo said. 

Students are added to the program as the school year goes on.

As such, Palermo estimated that they would end the school year with between 150 and 160 students. 

While there is some movement in terms of space in the classrooms, Palermo said there isn’t a lot. 

Speaking on Jan. 19, School Committee member Raghu Nandan asked what the criteria for selecting students were. Palermo said it was first come, first serve, though parents could specify if they want full day care or just in the morning. 

Fifty-four of the students attend the full-day program. This year, there were four full-day classrooms and three half-day — a total of seven classrooms. 

“We have had a significant increase in the number of families who are looking for full day,” Palermo said. 

She proposed to both Superintendent Amber Bock and Director of Student Services Sherrie Stevens that they open an eighth classroom, which is currently not being used, as a temporary addition to respond to this interest from Westborough families. 

Palermo said they checked with the families on the waiting list. 

“We probably have right now 15 families who said, ‘Yes, they would absolutely be interested in a full-day program,’” she said.

The WECC plans to contract with a teacher and paraeducator through the end of the year. The collected tuition would offset these costs, Palermo said. 

As WECC rolls out the application process for next school year, staff will continue to assess interest in the community. 

“We anticipate that we’re still going to have a lot of interest in enrolling in the program,” Palermo said. 

WECC talks tuition increase

Although the School Committee approved a WECC recommendation that tuition rates remain the same for next school year, staff members are proposing an eventual review of the tuition.

Palermo said the last time the tuition was increased was in 2019 when the program expanded from four to five days per-week. 

“We want to give people a window of opportunity,” Bock said of that plan. “We’ve got a lot of people suffering from inflation. We know there’s a lot still going on with COVID. We want to provide a long window for people planning preschool to know and understand that that cost isn’t stagnant.”  

This matter may be presented to the School Committee next January.

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