The information below has been updated from the previous blog post to reflect the July 23rd School Committee Meeting discussion.
The summary below gives some background information surrounding the Elementary Space Study review, the need to conduct the study, and the reason why additional space may be needed for future programmatic changes at the elementary level.
What is the background for the Elementary Space Study?
Over the last month, the Reading School Committee has been reviewing an Elementary Space Study report which was completed in May, 2012 by Frank Locker Educational Planning Consultants. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the educational adequacy of space at the pre-school and elementary schools, and to outline the short term and long term options to serve the elementary students. A copy of the report and the backup information is found at the following Edline link:
This report was initiated in November, 2011 as a proactive way of looking at our growing space needs at the Elementary level due to programmatic changes. These program issues and the need for additional space related to the program needs first began to be discussed in March, 2011, when Superintendent John Doherty presented to the Reading School Committee the results of his transition plan for the School District. The Superintendent’s Transition plan was developed over an eight month period with feedback collected from interviews and surveys of hundreds of community members, parents, teachers and students, and the review of several School Department documents. As a result of those findings, The Superintendent developed a multi-year plan called The Reading Public Schools Strategy for Improvement of Student Outcomes. This plan has become the blueprint for initiatives that the district is exploring and will be implementing over the next three years as a way to improve the Reading Public Schools. The district is currently implementing several of the initiatives in the plan including developing a Behavioral Health Task Force, Piloting a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative for grades 7-12, and piloting the Elementary Standards-Based Report Card. A review of our current elementary space needs and the development of a plan to address future needs was included as part of that plan.
Why do we need additional classroom space at the Elementary School level?
One of the areas that was a concern for elementary families who were interviewed during the Transition Plan development was the need to provide additional programs at the pre-school and elementary school levels, most notably, offering Full Day Kindergarten for all students and expanding the RISE Pre-School program. According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2011), 201 out of 328 Massachusetts school districts that offer kindergarten offer free full day kindergarten for all of their students. Currently, the Reading Public Schools offer a tuition-based full day kindergarten program for 60% of our students and our RISE preschool program has grown significantly over the last several years. However, in order for the district to continue to expand these programs and continue to improve the quality of these programs, additional classroom space will be required. For the 2012-13 school year, the Reading Public Schools will not have any additional classroom space at the elementary level for further expansion of programs. The reason for this is since the 2005-06 school year, which is the first year that we had five elementary schools operating in our district, we have increased classroom space needs in the following programmatic areas:
1. Full Day Kindergarten-Due to the increased demand by families for Full Day Kindergarten, we have increased the number of classrooms designated for Full Day Kindergarten from 5 in 2005-06 to 9 in this upcoming school year. The number of full day students during that time has increased from 92 students in 2004-05 to 182 students in 2012-13.
2. Special Education In District Programs-Over the last several years, we have developed strong in-district special education programs to address the needs of our students. These programs allow our Reading students to stay in the school district with their peers, instead of being assigned to an out of district placement for an additional cost to the operating budget. During the 2005-06 school year, we had one elementary special education program classroom in the district. In the 2012-13 school year, we will have 6 classrooms at the elementary level dedicated to special education programs in the district.
3. Maintain adequate class size-It has been the guidelines of the Reading Public Schools over the last few years to maintain Grade K-2 class sizes of 18-22 students and Grade 3-5 classrooms in the mid-20’s. When classroom space is not available, class sizes will increase when additional students enroll in that grade. Over the last two years, we have been able to re-assign students who move in to Reading from their home district as a way to balance class sizes across a grade level. We have also attempted to keep cohorts of kindergarten students together geographically to start their entry in the Reading Public Schools with balanced class sizes.
4. RISE Pre-School Program-Over the last 7 years, we have seen an increase of 3 and 4 year old students that have been identified for Special Education services. This has increased our RISE pre-school population from 72 students in the 2005-06 school year to 127 students at the end of the 2011-12 school year. For the 2012-13 school year, we will have 7 classrooms for the RISE Preschool, an increase of 2 classrooms since 2005-06. Next year, we will not be able to accommodate all of the students at the RISE Pre-School, so we will be using 1.5 classrooms at Wood End.
5. Dedicated Art and Music Classrooms-When Barrows was renovated and Wood End was built in 2005, the School District was committed to provide dedicated art and music classrooms at each elementary school so that art and music would no longer have to be taught with the teacher moving from classroom to classroom on a cart. Teaching the art and music programs in a dedicated classroom allow for more hands-on learning experiences for the students. At times over the last few years, due to classroom space needs in other areas, we have had to combine art and music classrooms in some of our elementary schools. Next year, three of our schools will have dedicated art and music classrooms, and two will have a combined art and music classroom.
Is the additional space needed created by an increase in enrollment?
In the Elementary Space Study conducted by Frank Locker, there are two enrollment projections that are included; a moderate enrollment projection which shows a slight increase over the next several years and a high enrollment projection, which indicates an enrollment issues at some of the elementary schools over the next several years.
In our analysis of space needs, we are assuming the moderate enrollment projection, not the high enrollment projection. Currently, the elementary enrollment for the 2012-13 school year is consistent with the 2011-12 school year elementary enrollment. The need for additional space is based on the programmatic issues described above and not a significant increase in enrollment.
Will we see an increase in Chapter 70 funding or other grant funding if we move forward with Full Day Kindergarten for all students?
If the Reading Public Schools commits to providing free full day kindergarten for all students, there will be an increase in Chapter 70 funding due to the fact that all kindergarten students will count in the formula as full day students. Currently, any half day kindergarten student or any full day kindergarten student that pays tuition is only counted as a half day student in the Chapter 70 formula. For example, if we implemented free full day kindergarten this year, with 320 students, the Chapter 70 funding for FY14 would increase approximately 1.1 million dollars. This amount would offset the expenses associated with hiring additional staff to implement full day kindergarten for all students.
There are also transitional grants provided by the DESE for communities who are transitioning from half day programs to full day programs. If Reading qualified, we could receive up to $200,000 over a two year period.
What are the next steps?
The Reading School Committee has met on June 11, July 9, and July 23 to discuss the contents of the report and to explore additional information on Full Day Kindergarten, Pre-School, Special Education Programs, dedicated Art and Music classrooms and future expansion of these programs. Members of the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee attended the June 11th meeting. At a future School Committee meeting, the School Committee will direct the Administration to move forward with some of the programmatic issues that are being discussed, as well as, a classroom space plan.
Will there be additional public meetings on this issue?
The Reading School Committee will continue to discuss this topic at the August 27th meeting, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the School Committee Conference Room at the Reading Administrative Offices. An additional meeting is being planned in late August in continue this discussion. We encourage all who are interested to attend.