Schools Ready to Welcome Students
Some 1,282 elementary-aged students from pre-Kindergarten to 6th grade walked through the doors of the town’s four elementary schools this week, to start a new school year. Of those, 165 are kindergarten students, a number that held steady compared to last year’s, according to School Supt. Dr. Vince Scarpetti.
“There’s excitement in the air,” Dr. Scarpetti said at the August 21 Board of Education meeting. He said he had taken a tour of the district’s four school buildings the week prior, together with administrators and members of the Board, and congratulated the custodial staff for getting the buildings ready for students.
Mike Gray, director of Business and Operations, said three capital projects planned for this summer had been completed, or nearly completed, namely the replacement of the mansard roof at Peck Place School, and renewal of the front steps at Turkey Hill School. The district also installed a new rubber surface and some accessible playground equipment at Peck Place School. Now all of the school playgrounds are upgraded to allow for inclusive outdoor time.
As for the planned furniture replacement at Race Brook, Gray said the decision was taken to give students the opportunity to try out some choices for their comfort. The district had done so in the past, when they provided furniture for Turkey Hill School.
Comfort and flexibility will be main factors in determining the right fit. They want to make sure that furniture can be moved easily to form cooperative groups when called for. Once the order is placed, there may be some eight to 12 weeks before the delivery is made.
Food Service: Last year the district received federal funding to offer free meals – a factor that helped increase participation in the lunch program to an average of 750 per day. Going forward, students and their families will have to pay for hot lunch, and the district set the price at $3.15. The state has agreed to pick up the cost for those who qualify for reduced price lunches (40c). The price for milk (60c) remains unchanged.
Teacher hiring: The district welcomed 12 new teachers this fall. Dr. Scarpetti said his biggest concern this year was to find two qualified Spanish teachers. Students in grades 1-6 are learning Spanish, and each of the schools has their own teacher. “We were very fortunate that we found two full-time teachers,” he said. However, they will not start at the beginning of the year, he said. Other than that, hiring went smoothly, he said.
Math tutors: The District is applying for a grant to provide “high-dosage math tutoring” for sixth grade students who struggle with math. The question whether the service will be provided after school or during the regular school day will depend on the needs of those who will be enrolled, said Dr. Evelyn Russo, Director of Curriculum/Instruction & Personnel.
The tutoring grant is one of many the district received this year, partly through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP). Mike Gray said the grant, at $326,000, paid for summer enrichment activities, which allowed the district to pay for all summer programming this year. The program proved popular with families, said Dr. Russo, who thanked the local staff for offering innovative programming.
The district hopes to be able to offer it again next year, using remaining funds.
PTO gift: The board also gratefully accepted a gift from the Turkey Hill PTO to upgrade the public address system in the school’s gym. The project was proposed by music teacher Kyle Ryan, and would cost about $7,000. The reaction from board member Ke Vitelli was a heartfelt “Rock on, Mr. Ryan.”
Similarly, board member Carmen Rodriguez noted that all the classrooms she saw on the tour of the buildings had smartboards. These may not be new buildings, she said, but inside is “a match to any state of the art.”