By Ann Needle
The Nashoba District recently approved some major changes to its pre-kindergarten program for next year. Concerns over these changes – and how they have been communicated – have prompted some parents to speak out.
The Program Changes
At its Nov. 29 meeting, the Nashoba School Committee unanimously approved changes to the district’s integrated pre-K program for the 2018/19 school year, which combines special education and typical “role model” students. One of the changes was the trimming of the current spots for role model students across the district from the pre-school program.
Nashoba administration maintained the cuts would better serve the pre-K SPED students for which an integrated classroom is designed and mandated by the state. The state does not require public schools to provide pre-school programs specifically for typical students. With the current enrollments, there are two classrooms that have no SPED students and two classrooms that have 1 SPED student.
The approved changes would reduce the number of available slots to 48 (from 58) for SPED students and 48 (from 110) for role models. Other changes included trimming back program options, such as eliminating the 2-day, half-day program.
Some parents express concern
A petition urging the SC to reconsider its approval, posted on nashobavotes.org, maintained in part that the undersigned parents are “alarmed by, and do not support, the recent proposal by the NSRD administrative team and subsequent decision by the NRSD School Committee (NRSD SC) to dramatically reduce the size of the existing preschool program by 44% for the 2018-19 school year. This decision resulted in the loss of 75 preschool seats in a district already challenged with limited access to affordable high-quality preschool options.” The petition shows 253 online signatures.
The petition continues by stating that, along with other issues the changes could prompt, a closer ratio of SPED to regular students “decreases the likelihood that all children within the program will thrive socially, emotionally, and academically;” takes away options for district pre-K families eligible for tuition assistance; and increases the chance that siblings may not be able to attend the same district school.
The petition concludes by asking the SC to suspend any action related to the newly-approved pre-K plan until it creates and approves a comprehensive Early Childhood Education Plan. The petition also calls for the appointment of a district-wide committee “to engage in a process to develop a vision and 3-5 year strategy for a comprehensive Early Childhood Education Plan for the district that includes preschool and kindergarten.”
In a recent letter sent to district parents with pre-K-age children, Superintendent Brooke Clenchy explained that the district’s elementary school principals and SPED staff formed the recommended pre-K changes upon request by the School Committee for the Superintendent’s review of the program. Clenchy said, “Integrated Preschool classrooms exist to provide learning experiences for children, ages three to five, whose special education needs cannot be served at home, preschool programs or daycare centers. Children are educated with typically developing peers who do not have special needs and who serve as role models for learning.”
She continued, “The District Team revisited the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education compliance expectations regarding the mandated component of the Integrated Pre-K, its purpose and target audience. We will continue to be in full compliance with the state’s expectations as we have in previous years.”
At the Dec. 6 SC meeting, about 10 parents indicated during Citizens Comments that they wanted to speak about the Pre-K program changes. Although the topic was not on the agenda, SC Chair Lorraine Romasco stated she would take a limited number of comments.
As the final commenter finished her remarks, George Quievryn of Stow demanded to speak. Quievryn refused Romano’s request to sit down, and she then recessed the meeting. The Bolton Police were called and escorted Quievryn, who had since been quiet, out with no further problems.
Later, Quievryn said his actions were not based out of anger but a sense of civic responsibility. “My real goal was the communication side,” he said, citing what he felt has been a lack of clear communication coming from the SC.
As an example, Quievryn pointed to the wording of the Pre-K discussion as “Pre-K Update” on the Nov. 29 agenda, and the legal requirement that “The list of topics [on an agenda] must be sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.” Said Quievryn, “In my view, characterizing this as an ‘update’ is inaccurate and is not ‘sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public.’ One of the reasons given by the board for voting at this time is there were no comments from the public. However, no one interested in this topic was at the meeting because of the ambiguous agenda.” Quievryn also stated he had experienced lacking or “terse” communication from School Committee reps that he has emailed.
When asked about communication between the School Committee and the public, Chair Romasco pointed out several ways in which the committee has made efforts to engage more directly with the community, including the creation of the narrative Budget Book to better explain the budget process and ongoing updates to agendas. “Since September, we have included an updated calendar of agenda items for meetings throughout the year in our meeting packets,” Romasco explained. “The items are key discussion and decision points the admin and SC will be undertaking making it easy for people to identify when those deliberations will occur.”
Regarding communication in general, Romasco said, “We agree that two-way communication is important. As you know, it’s one of our goals. This year, it’s one of the administration’s goals as well. The district does have a policy, KE – Public Access to the School Committee and Process for Resolution of Public Concern, which you can find on the Policy tab in the SC section of the district site [www.nrsd.net]. My personal practice is to respond to inquiries from Bolton residents generally within 24 hours. I assume my colleagues on the SC work to also be as responsive as they can.” She also pointed out that some issues are referred to the school’s administration if the subject is not under the purview of the school committee.
Also commenting on communication, Superintendent Clenchy stated, “In terms of process, we generally take things to the school committee first, prior to the public… From there, depending on their response, we look to a possible roll out, although there are also times when the decision is status quo. We always have to keep in mind that the roll out generally includes multiple stakeholder groups, and we work hard to be sure that everyone is well informed.”
The SC announced that it postponed its Dec. 20 meeting to enable Superintendent Clenchy to use that time to host a public forum on the pre-K changes in Lancaster. Visit www.boltonindependent.com for coverage of that meeting.