Northeast School kindergarten day extended

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Sep. 16, 2011
Northeast School Principal Michael DeBellis explains how the kindergarten teachers will be scheduled. Photos by Steve Smith.
Northeast School Principal Michael DeBellis explains how the kindergarten teachers will be scheduled. Photos by Steve Smith.

After Superintendent Mary Conway said she and her staff were “appalled” by the test scores, the Vernon Board of Education didn't hesitate to unanimously approve a longer day of kindergarten at Northeast School. Conway said Connecticut Mastery Test scores from the school were “not very good at all” compared to other schools in the district.

“We are trying to make sure we are providing some kind of equity to our students across the district who are in need,” she said, adding that the remedy is to provide better instruction to the youngest students. “We felt that this was a pretty imminent need right here, and we needed to provide something that would strengthen our students' early education,” Conway said. “We really didn't want to wait.”

Maple Street School already has extended-day kindergarten, employing two full-time teachers. The board heard the request for longer kindergarten at Northeast at its meeting on Sept. 12.

“This would enable our students to have more academic time, [specifically] time for reading,” Conway said, “and get the pre-reading strategies that they need. It's certainly a no-brainer.”

“It's very encouraging to see this,” said board member David Kemp, who asked about the possibility of shifting resources within the district to better align the instruction at NES.

“Certainly, we need to look at those resources and see what we can do across the district, as well,” Conway said.

The extended kindergarten day is scheduled to begin on Oct. 11, just after the Columbus Day holiday. Kindergarteners will have an extra one hour and 15 minutes. Specifically, the students will see increased time with reading consultant Jennifer Ojala and reading teacher Laura Waterman.

Northeast School Principal Michael DeBellis said the two reading instructors will come to the classroom as a team for reading lessons, lasting about 25 to 30 minutes, which will help keep students' attention. “During that half an hour, they'll break the class into two or three groups,” he said, “and then have them rotate through reading lessons, which will fit nicely into the development of kindergartners. Instead of having to sit through 30 minutes, they'll either have 10- or 15-minute stations.”

DeBellis said the students will have another 30 minutes of instructional time with their regular classroom teacher.

The morning kindergarten session will be from 8:17 a.m. to 12:32 p.m., and the later session will be from 10:47 a.m. to 3:02 p.m. Students will now have a lunch period.

Board member Paul Stensel said he was sad that the district had to take the step, but was glad that it is, and lamented that the results may not be known for three years - when the current kindergarten classes take the Connecticut Mastery Test. But DeBellis said the difference should be detectable sooner.

“I hope that even before the three years, we'll notice an effect,” DeBellis said, adding that the universal screens (which track student progress) in the winter will be the first opportunity to see the results.

Northeast School currently employs 1.5 full-time teachers, and will increase the part-time teacher to .6. “It does work, but we're really stretching it,” Conway said, adding that the salary account will absorb the additional cost of about $4,000. DeBellis added that the bus schedule will have to make a slight adjustment to accommodate the change in the school schedule.

Before voting, Kemp asked if the extended kindergarten was a test or a pilot program, but Conway reminded him that Maple Street School already has the program in place, so the district already has an example. “We're going with this,” she said. “Maple Street has had a lot of success with this. If we piloted it, that was the pilot. We know it works. We need to do this.”


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