|By Chris Maza|
LONGMEADOW – The School Committee and Longmeadow Public Schools are investigating the possibility of offering full-day kindergarten programs.
School Committee Chair Michael Clark said a committee has been formed at the request of Superintendent of Schools Marie Doyle with the intent of determining whether or not it would be feasible to make the alterations to the kindergarten program, which now primarily offers half-day learning.
“Right now we offer full-day kindergarten, but we do it on a lottery basis and we do charge for it,” Clark said.
He added that the district is fortunate to have resources such a Montessori, with which the district has an afternoon exchange, but those opportunities also aren’t available to them.
“A lot of parents do take advantage of that, but for parents who maybe can’t afford Montessori or don’t have that as an option for them, we need to be able to provide them with something,” he said. “Right now, if you don’t get selected for the lottery [and] you don’t have the opportunity to put your kid into the exchange, then you’re in a tough spot.”
Clark said the committee would take a “renewed look” at the issue, which has been delved into in the past by former superintendents.
“It will look at exactly what it costs to do that type of program and what type of resources we would need to throw at it,” he said. “Now we’re talking about adding sections for every single student whereas right now we have one teacher for two different sections because it’s a half-day program.”
Clark said the study, while requested by Doyle, is in response to growing interest from the community in establishing full-day kindergarten.
He added that a full-day program could also allow the district and its staff to build upon the work it has done thus far regarding its motto, “Eyes on the child.”
“We put so many resources into early intervention and response intervention and that’s been so focused on in the [kindergarten] through [grade] two level that half a day with these kids isn’t enough,” he said.
Clark said the School Committee is hoping to have a clearer view on the feasibility of the program in late fall.
“I think ideally we’d like to have that picture in focus closer to November or December so that when the budget is built and when we start trying to get our budget funded next year, we can either include it or not included it based on what the outcome is,” he said. “I think that it’s something we would like to see under consideration in a budget one way or the other for next year.”
Clark also said the policy subcommittee was looking into formulating a better method for collecting lunch fees.
“The real issue is not the cost of lunch, but the issue is we have a lot of delinquent and overdrawn accounts,” Clark said.
He said Assistant Superintendent for Business Thomas Mazza has been talking about addressing the issue for approximately two years. Under the policy being discussed, students with delinquent accounts would still be allowed to purchase lunch, but certain extra items would not be available to them until the account was paid.
“You obviously can’t deny a kid a lunch. They have to eat and they deserve to eat,” Clark said. “But we can no longer allow them to purchase some of the a la carte items like cookies and juices and other items like that.”
A system like the one proposed would allow the district to make its accounts current on a month-to-month basis.
Currently, the only enforcement regarding delinquency is requiring all debts be squared away before a student graduates high school or they would not receive a diploma.
“It really is an ongoing issue because typically we don’t have the chance to collect on it until [students] graduate,” Clark said. “So for a kid in sixth grade, if their parents aren’t going to pay it, that’s six or seven years that we’re not collecting money. Now, that’s money that has gone through two different food service companies and we’ve already subsidized. That’s a long paper trail.”
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