In Wilmington business, all 4-year-olds will be able to attend preschool at Deerfield Valley Elementary School this year, but the full-day program will be severed to create morning and afternoon sessions.
The decision came nearly a month after school officials first announced that there were two more applicants than the 16 available slots for the full-day pre-K/4 program. Initially, the school followed state recommendations to fill the open slots through a lottery. But parents of the children who weren’t selected, as well as some parents of children who were selected for the full-day program, objected.
At a special meeting, parents told board members that every child in Wilmington should have the same educational opportunity. At that meeting, board members agreed to find a way to accommodate all Wilmington preschoolers, and suggested they might be able to find room to expand the full-day program.
Tuesday evening, however, board members said expanding the full-day program wouldn’t be possible. “It’s looking like we don’t have the extra room,” Wilmington School Board Chair Phil Taylor said. “With the construction, we’ll be losing the portable classrooms.”
Although board members discussed various options for shuffling students around to create enough space for two full-day classrooms, DVES Principal Rebecca Fillion pointed out that the cost of outfitting a room that would meet department of health and department of education standards for a preschool classroom would be prohibitive, even before the cost of additional staff is factored in.
“The cards are stacked against us in terms of expanding to a second classroom,” agreed Taylor. “In light of that, I don’t know what else we can do if we’re going to accommodate all students.”
Board member Doug Swanson made a motion to offer a half-day preschool “with regret.” Although the preschool program envisioned by the state is generally a half-day program focusing on socialization, DVES expanded their program to a full day, adding a preschool academic program. Initial results have been positive, and the first group of students to complete the program have demonstrated “unprecedented” levels of achievement.
The board passed Swanson’s motion four to one, with board member Dennis Richter voting against.
The new half-day program will run from 8 to 10:45 am, with an afternoon session running from 12 to 2:45. The program will run five days per week except in weeks when there’s a Wednesday “inservice” day. “That morning would be planning time for the pre-K teacher, who is losing some of her daily planning time,” Fillion said.
With the number of available preschool slots doubled, Fillion said the school would be able to accept more students than those who have already applied.
In Twin Valley matters, the board approved a bid to supply heating oil for the upcoming school year. The boards picked Sandri, the lowest bidder, at $2.84 per gallon. Bids ranged from $2.84 to $2.99. Richter hesitated, but voted in favor of the deal. “I think prices are going to go even lower,” he said.
Board member Doug Swanson said FEMA has agreed to pay 90% of the cost of repairing the athletic fields at the high school. “They’ll pay for crowning the field and fixing the high spots,” Swanson said. “So we’re going to take care of that.”
Swanson said the work would be done in October, after the regular soccer season. “We won’t be able to have any playoff games here, but it’s the only way we know we can guarantee we can play on the field the following year.”
Board member Adam Grinold questioned the need for the repair. “Won’t we have a field at Whitingham?” he asked. “If the (Wilmington) field isn’t going to be used as a Twin Valley field, why crown it?”
Swanson said it’s likely that Twin Valley will continue to use the field in Wilmington for some games. “We have multiple teams, and Baker Field (in Wilmington) has lights,” he said.
“We’re in a situation where FEMA was very enthusiastic about giving us the money,” added Taylor, “and we didn’t want to say no. I think they’ve already sent us the check, to be honest.”
“If we can have it lit and fit for five grand, do it,” agreed board member Dwight Williams.
Administrators warned board members they would need additional funds to cover federally-mandated reporting requirements. Fillion told board members DVES would need up to $2,000 to enter the data into the state’s education reporting system.
Twin Valley Middle School/Whitingham Elementary Principal Keith Lyman said some of the work has already been done at his school, but he’d need up to $1,000 to complete it.
Board members asked why the mandated work hadn’t been included in the budget. “It was waived last year, and it was hoped that it would be abolished altogether,” said Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Assistant Superintendent Nancy Talbot. “It was announced in March.”