Sandwich school administrators tried to reassure parents and board members at this week’s Sandwich School Committee meeting that even though kindergarten aides will not be in every classroom at the Forestdale School next year, teachers and students will still be getting the support that they need.
Parents attended the Sandwich School Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 12, to voice their concerns that teachers would not have the support in the classroom that they need in order to make sure children are supervised and getting the individualized help that some students need.
Superintendent Pamela A. Gould and Forestdale Principal Christopher Dintino tried to assuage those concerns by discussing a plan for next year that keeps aides in the classroom part time in a different capacity.
The aides were once funded through grant money, but that money is no longer available.
When the district started providing free full-day kindergarten in 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provided a grant of about $10,000 per classroom that paid the salary for the teachers’ aides. When the grant was not renewed, the district had thought that a Title I grant could be used to continue funding those positions.
Dr. Gould recently learned, however, that those aides cannot be paid for with Title I money.
According to the state department of education, the Title I grant can be used to provide academic support services to low-achieving students at all grade levels; but dedicated kindergarten aides do not meet that criteria, Dr. Gould said.
As a result of this, Dr. Gould said, the current budget no longer supports the kindergarten model of one teacher and one aide that the schools have been using for the past four years. She said it would cost the district $110,000 to keep the current model.
During the public forum segment of the Sandwich School Committee meeting Wednesday, two parents stepped to the microphone and asked the board to find a way to keep funding those positions.
Jennifer L. Linkewicz said that her daughter’s kindergarten classroom has gone through a few aides this year as a result of two of them moving away from the district. As a result, her daughter’s classroom had several weeks without an aide. She said that during those weeks, parents stepped up to help the teacher and without that help the teacher would not have been able to work with smaller groups of students who need more targeted assistance.
“Kindergarten is supposed to lay the groundwork for years to come,” she said. She offered to help in any way she could to raise money to fund classroom aides.
Nathan Burke said he has a child who is entering kindergarten next year and said he is concerned that without aides in the classrooms, students will not have adequate supervision. He said there are a lot of parents who care about this subject who would be willing to raise money.
Dr. Gould said that while there will not be classroom aides next year, all of the people who filled those positions have already been placed into other positions in the school.
Mr. Dintino agreed that kindergarten aides are important, but financially they had to be creative with how that would work. As a result, next year there will be five or six people who will be working as kindergarten math and English Language Arts interventionists, who will work very closely with kindergarten students who need more targeted help.
Mr. Dintino said that this model was appealing because Forestdale has relatively small kindergarten class sizes, with about 16 students per classroom. He said that a classroom teacher is well-equipped to handle that number of children without having a constant aide. Additionally, the aides this year were in the schools on a part-time basis. He said that teachers are already getting through about three hours of their day without the added support.