School board reinstates readiness program

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The Region 16 Board of Education has reinstated the kindergarten readiness program at Algonquin School in Prospect and Laurel Ledge School in Beacon Falls for the coming school year. –FILE PHOTO

PROSPECT — After listening to the concerns of parents, the Region 16 Board of Education restored the kindergarten readiness program for the coming school year.

The board unanimously voted to reinstate the program at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls and Algonquin School in Prospect during its meeting Wednesday night.

The program is for students entering kindergarten who aren’t quite ready yet for regular kindergarten for academic or social reasons. Students are screened every year in the spring prior to entering kindergarten. If the screening shows a student could use a year of readiness prior to regular kindergarten, the student’s parents are given the option of participating in the program.

The school board voted to eliminate the program in May, after parents had already signed their children up for the program. The decision to eliminate the program was based on declining enrollment and research that shows retention programs, which the readiness program is considered, aren’t that effective in the long run.

A total of 36 children from the district, which covers Beacon Falls and Prospect, were identified for the program next school year, only 15 parents enrolled their children in the program.

Once parents were notified of the board’s decision to cancel the program, some parents stepped forward in early June to ask the board to reconsider and a handful of parents were present at the meeting Wednesday to plead their case again.

“This is an influential time. The demands in kindergarten are becoming more academic and fast paced,” Elizabeth Setaro, whose child is enrolled in the program at Laurel Ledge, told the board.

Setaro said the program helps children and gives them a year to catch up to their peers. She said faculty at Laurel Ledge and parents who had children go through the program spoke favorably about the program during an orientation in March.

“Each parent that spoke stated it was the best decision for their child,” Setaro said.

Paul Cummings, a father of four whose son went through the program at Laurel Ledge, felt the program shouldn’t be characterized as a retention program.

“Retention programs are reactive,” Cummings said.

The readiness program is proactive, Cummings said, and offers a transition period for children not ready yet for the increasing requirements of kindergarten.

For most parents, the elimination of the program came as a shock.

“The timing of it was a huge aspect for us,” said David Bunk, whose 4-year-old is enrolled in the program.

Bunk said the cancelation left him and is wife on waiting lists as they scrambled to find a place for their child.

The timing of their decision didn’t sit well with members of the board as well.

“I’m concerned about the way we handled it and the timing of it,” board member Robert Hiscox said.

Board Chair Priscilla Cretella said the fact the board offered the program then took it away bothered her as well.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the timing of the decision wouldn’t have been different since the children are screened for kindergarten in the spring. Running the program or eliminating it doesn’t have an impact on the budget. James said the decision is a philosophical one the board will have to make on whether it supports the program.

Parents also recommended school officials could do more to communicate exactly what the program is and how it works with parents to help increase enrollment.

Board member Nazih Noujaim suggested providing a written description of program to parents.

In a subsequent interview, James said parents raised some interesting points on the issue of communication.

“I walked away with some good suggestions that I’m going to put in place,” James said.

Ultimately, the board decided to reinstate the program for the 2012-13 school year and discuss the program’s future in the fall.

“We have not had a problem with our readiness K previous to this. It’s always been a very well run program. It’s been beneficial, because of the information we got, the board made this decision,” Cretella said. “We all agree we’re not happy with the way we made it, maybe the timing was wrong and we didn’t mean to leave anybody in the lurch that was not the intention at all.”