Amid a tense build up to the for a $12.8 million middle school addition, the Eastchester Board of Education has run into another hurdle in recent days, as unexpected and last minute registrations into the district’s kindergarten class has left sections overcrowded and school parents in an uproar.
Despite the quickly approaching vote on the bond proposal, talk at Tuesday’s regular Board of Education meeting was mostly reserved to the overcrowding issues in kindergarten classes at the , where 245 regular education kindergarten students are currently registered and an average of 24.5 students are in each section.
As to why adjustments were not made prior to the start of school, Board President Paul Doyle told the public that as of August only 219 kindergarten students were registered, a number he said the Board was “comfortable with.” However, that number quickly jumped up to 245 between the weeks leading up to the school opening and the first week of classes, something Vice President of the Board Michelle Kessel said “we’ve never seen happen before.” It was also noted that on the first day of school only 234 kindergarten students were registered, with an additional 11 students joining after classes had already begun.
According to a short enrollment presentation from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marilyn C. Terranova, Waverly counted 219 registered kindergarten students last year. This year, including special education students, that number has skyrocketed to 265, an increase Terranova said has been seen statewide.
“That’s not an excuse, that’s reality,” Doyle said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t like that ratio at all. No one here does.”
Members of the public also heard from Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ron Hattar on Tuesday, who is heavily involved in enrollment in the district. Hatter stressed that kindergarten was the toughest class to predict enrollment for, adding that the only predictor used to estimate class size for any given year is the number of live births in the school district. Five years ago, Hatter said, there were 82 live births in the Eastchester school district, obviously far exceeded by the 245 regular education students now registered in kindergarten at the Waverly School.
School officials emphasize that they try to encourage parents to register their children as early as possible, however this does not account for families coming from overseas, families that take longer than expected to close on houses, or simply parents who register late.
Next, talk turned to what was being done to alleviate the situation, as Hatter told the public that despite considering opening up additional kindergarten sections, the Board – with feedback from Waverly administrators and teachers – had instead decided to increase monitor personnel and hours in the school.
Hatter explained that adding additional sections and taking students out of classes and into new ones would be “inappropriate” at this point, something Board members and parents in attendance generally agreed with, stating that this is the time kindergarten students are just getting comfortable with their teachers, classmates and new surroundings.
Under the new monitor schedule, in class monitors – who are not certified teachers – will go from having 2 hours and 35 minutes of “contact time” with students every day to 4 hours and 20 minutes, taking the student to adult ratio in Waverly School kindergarten classes to approximately 12 to 1. Hatter added that the modified schedule would take about two weeks to come into affect, as new monitors would have to be hired.
Vice President of the Board Michelle Kessel stressed that smaller classes is something “we all value” in the school district, adding, “none of us are happy with that number.”
Kessel also pointed out that adding kindergarten sections at this point would be a difficult task due to the fixed budget the district has to work with and the fact that it would require the hiring of new teachers. Kessel admitted that the issue “could have been communicated better” to parents of kindergarten students, many of which told the Board Tuesday that they first heard of the fact there would be between 24 and 25 students in their child’s class at the school’s open house.
When given a chance to speak, parents of kindergarten students at the Waverly School called the Board’s decision to increase monitor hours a “band aid solution,” expressing their discontent at the level of communication and foresight on the part of the Board and urging it to find a solution for next year’s students.
“As a parent and an educator I find the size of the classes to be unacceptable,” school district resident Tina Fernandez who has a child in kindergarten at the Waverly School told the Board Tuesday. “We wish that the district had informed us when the numbers had started to climb, so that we could have worked with you on a better solution.”
The Eastchester Board of Education will next have a work session on Tuesday Oct. 11, and a regular meeting on Tuesday Oct. 25.