Parents of kindergartners at the Jennie E. Hewitt Elementary School were angry and disappointed after a school board meeting last week at which the Board of Education announced that it would not be adding another kindergarten class.
Nearly 100 Hewitt parents came to an earlier meeting, on Aug. 7, to voice their opposition to the district’s new policy, which allows parents of children who are in classes of 24 or more to transfer them to another school with fewer students. The parents instead wanted another kindergarten class added at Hewitt, which would reduce class sizes and bring the school more in line with the rest of the district, they said.
But the board announced at a brief meeting on Aug. 28 that it would maintain three kindergarten classes at Hewitt, two with 23 students and one with 24.
Last week’s meeting was held at South Side High School during the district’s annual Building Tour. Because it took place at 1:30 p.m., only a dozen or so parents attended. And because it was technically a work session and not a public meeting, public comment was not allowed. “We do not have time to open the microphones,” said board President Liz Dion. “This is part of an all-day meeting that began at 8:30 this morning and will continue until about 3:30 or 4 this afternoon.”
A class was instead added to Hewitt’s second grade, replacing three 25-student classes with four — two with 19 students and two with 20. “The recommendation is, based on all the information we have, that we have 77 sections,” Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said. “And we remain at 77 sections for the opening of school.”
Some parents said they had no confidence in the board now, and asked when members would be up for re-election. “You played a numbers game with the quality of our children’s education hanging in the balance, and our kids lost. You won,” Katie Conlon told the trustees. “If you had left the kids in the zone for Hewitt at Hewitt, it would have split and we would have had 20 kids per class, right in line with the rest of the district. You played a game, and you won.”
Trustee John O’Shea took issue with parents’ accusations that the board had manipulated the situation to avoid adding teachers. “We offered a solution that we all thought was a sound solution to some issues in the district,” O’Shea said. “It was the parents’ choice to move their children. You’re blaming us for a parent saying, ‘I want to take my child from here and put them here’?”
Johnson explained the district’s policy on class sizes. Once a class adds a 26th student, he said, the administration will meet with school staff to discuss options. There are mainly two, Johnson said: splitting the class or adding a teaching assistant. The T.A.s the district hires are all certified teachers, and it adds them only if it is deemed necessary because of enrollment numbers or if there are students from the district’s special education Inclusion Program in the class. Two of Hewitt’s three kindergarten classes will have T.A.s.
“Throughout the district, if a class has 25 students in the elementary schools without an inclusion, how many staff do we have? One teacher,” O’Shea told the parents. “That’s the policy of the Rockville Centre School District.
“You’re wanting us to make a different choice at Hewitt than we do at every other school,” he added.