Region 16 board OKs new teachers to reduce class sizes


By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — Two new teachers will be hired to reduce class sizes at Prospect Elementary School as Region 16 prepares to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan is to have the positions teach fourth and fifth grades at Prospect Elementary School. Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said a previously approved teacher for a proposed transitional kindergarten class will instead teach fourth grade at the school, as well, making it three additional teachers for the two grades in the coming school year.

Yamin said the additional teachers will decreases class sizes from about 25 to 15 to 18 students and allow for better social distancing in classrooms.

The transitional kindergarten teacher position was approved in April as part of the district’s $40.7 million 2020-21 budget. The program was intended to help students in kindergarten and first grade who may have fallen behind when schools closed in March and the district turned to distance learning. Officials anticipated the program would serve up to 18 students, but Yamin said it received little interest from parents. There would have been only five students in the program, he said.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees public schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved hiring the two additional elementary school teachers at its July 15 virtual meeting.

The cost of salary and benefits for the two positions depends on their level of education and could be about $70,000 each. It’s unclear where the money will come from for the teachers.

Yamin said during the meeting officials are compiling a list of coronavirus-related expenses to reopen schools and hope the district will be able to receive government grants or reimbursement to cover some of the costs. If not, he said, the money will come from other areas of the budget.

State officials are planning to fully reopen in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year — public health conditions permitting — and issued guidelines for school districts to follow. The guidelines spell out requirements for each school’s operation plans, including on cleaning and disinfecting, classroom layout, signs and messages, ventilation, and bus transportation. There are also other mandates, such as the wearing of masks and face coverings inside schools and on buses.

Region 16’s first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 31, though that may change after the state Board of Education July 14 approved a waiver to allow schools to shorten the school year by up to three days from 180 to 177 for additional training.

Region 16 officials were expected to complete the district’s reopening plan by the end of the week. The plan, which has to be submitted to the state for approval, will cover three scenarios: all students in school, a mix of distance learning and in-school instruction, and full distance learning.

As the district moves ahead with plans to reopen, officials stressed that the situation is fluid.

“We will be as best prepared as we can to make all necessary adjustments and accommodations,” school board Vice Chairman Robert Hiscox said.