What to Do About Reading Elementary School Space Crunch?
The Reading School Committee started the discussion and several like the idea of a new early childhood center on town land on Oakland Road.
Full-day kindergarten. Preschool. Special education programs. Dedicated art and music space in Reading elementary schools.
“We have to decide on the (school system’s) direction” in those areas before the School Committee examines elementary school space options, Superintendent John Doherty told the School Committee Monday night.
Doherty recapped the presentation made last month by consultant Frank Locker of Locker Educational Planning. What’s taking up space in town elementary schools isn’t just enrollment. It’s also programs -- from those listed above to a coming, more hands-on way of teaching math and science. District-wide, elementary schools are at 96.5 percent capacity, Locker said.
Locker presented the committee with a series of options, short and long-term. They range, at the extremes, from the superintendent assigning new-to-Reading students to an other-than-neighborhood school to avoid a too-large class to building a new school. Doherty recapped those options.
Doherty began his presentation Monday with numbers on the growing programs.
Full-day kindergarten has grown from four classrooms to nine, Doherty said – from 77 students in 2004-05 to 182 in the coming school year.
Enrollment in the pre-school RISE program has grown from 72 students to more than 100. The town can’t say “no” to the program, which enrolls a roughly equal number of special needs and typical students, Doherty said.
Special education classrooms have increased from one in 2004-05 to six for the coming year, Doherty told the committee.
Back to full-day kindergarten. Research shows it benefits students in a number of ways, Doherty said, from higher academic achievement to introducing students to the town’s “common core” of learning.
Just over 80 percent – 83 percent – of Reading kindergarteners attend full-day sessions. The fee: $4,200.
Reading charges the sixth-highest fee in the state, according to Director of School Finance and Operation Mary DeLai. Some 200 communities in the Commonwealth – 201 – offer free full-day kindergarten, Doherty said.
Full-day kindergarten was introduced as a trial, according to School Committee member Robert Spadafora, because the committee knew the system didn’t have space.
Where do other communities house their full-day kindergarteners? Some communities are closing schools, Doherty said.
Several committee members raised the idea of building a school on town-owned land on Oakland Road, possibly for pre-schoolers now housed primarily at the high school and kindergarteners system-wide.
School administrators are “relatively confident” the state would reimburse part of the cost of new facilities for kindergarteners, said DeLai. They would have to check on reimbursement for pre-kindergartener space, she said.
Before the committee considers a site, it should answer questions about how it wants to provide programs such as art and music and full-day kindergarten, Doherty said, after almost two hours of discussion on elementary school space.
“We need a vision of where we want to go” and how we would address it. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.”
A summary of Locker’s space options:
Short-term – that’s five years – art and music rooms could be reassigned as classrooms. Combined-grade classrooms could be set up, where appropriate. Class size could be increased for a certain length of time. RISE could leave Wood End.
Building-wise, modular classrooms might be added at Barrows, Birch Meadow, Eaton, Killam and Wood End; or for the RISE program at the high school; Killam “break out pits” could be converted into classroom use.
Long-term, Barrows, Birch Meadow and Eaton could be enlarged.
Or the RISE program could be put in its own building, either with or without centralized kindergarten, freeing classrooms at the elementary schools.
Or a new elementary school could be built to house pre-schoolers system-wide plus kindergarteners through fifth graders.