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Some Changes Made for the New School Year

August 31, 2023
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Some Changes Made for the New School Year

Some 875 students were headed back to Beecher Road School this week for the start of the 2023-24 school year.  Many of the faces and spaces will be familiar to them, as the teacher turnover was minor this year, compared to the last few years.

But the district is adding an assistant principal to help the administrative team with its myriad of responsibilities, in particular with teacher evaluations.  School Supt. Vonda Tencza announced in July that the board had recruited Cheryl Tafel for the position.  Tafel will work under Principal Analisa Sherman and alongside Assistant Principal Jamie Saisa.

Tencza said Tafel comes from the Fairfield school system, where she served as Elementary Program facilitator, a position similar to the one she will assume at Beecher Road School.  She has a special education background.

In addition to the administrative position, the district was hiring a replacement for Multi Language Learners teacher Thanh Huntington, who left the district at the end of the year; and a special education position.  By mid-August, Tencza was looking to fill four para-educators, and hire a part-time school psychologist.

Security coverage:  School Resource Officer Vinnie Lynch has retired from the Woodbridge PD and will return to the school as a security officer.  He will be present at all times when kids are in the building, including Extended Day and during summer programming.

Pool repairs:  Tencza informed the Board of Education that the long-awaited pool repairs seem to be imminent.  If things go as planned, the pool, which is shared by the Recreation Department and the school, may be operational in October.

Practicing gratitude:  When welcoming teachers and staff at the annual convocation, Tencza urged them to focus on an attitude of gratitude as a way to strengthen the community.  She encouraged them to journal with this perspective in mind, and to document throughout the year what they are grateful for.

“This year we will focus on creating and growing a culture of gratitude,” she wrote in a letter to the community.  “There is a great deal of research around the power and impact of gratitude, and we will be exploring this as a school community.”

Class sizes:  Some 115 kids were registered for Kindergarten this year, distributed among six classrooms.  Although the class sizes are higher than recommended numbers in the agreed-upon guidelines, Tencza said the decision was made to add another section to the second grade, rather than Kindergarten.

Adding a classroom in August creates several challenges for the administration, including last-minute hiring and room allocations.  They solved the former by re-assigning a librarian to a fifth grade classroom, and a fifth grade teacher to the second grade.  To open up another classroom, they put music on a cart, and reassigned the Spanish classroom.

Kindergarten classes are now at 20 students each (recommended is between 17-19) and one at 21.  Second grades, even with the additional section, are now at 18, with two classes at 19 students.  The Kindergarten teachers will have the support of paraeducators, one assigned to each classroom.

“This building is running out of space,” Tencza summarized at the August 21 Board of Education meeting.

Space needs assessment:  The Board of Education back in January had established an ad hoc group to review current space needs and the implications of projected enrollment on the available space.  Maria Madonick, who chairs the ad hoc committee, reported back to the Board of Education back in June, and later to the Board of Selectmen in July.

The education board voted unanimously to hire a consultant to perform an Education Specification Study to determine space specifications for all activities taking place at the school.  The consultant might also recommend repurposing current spaces, help them evaluate other spaces in town, and look at other options for addressing those space needs, including for example shared services with other BOWA districts.

The district is in the process of developing an RFQ for this consultant.

Even at current levels, the school has an immediate space need, Madonick said in her report.  Supported by pictures showing filing cabinets and instructional equipment “stored” along hallways and walls, she pointed out that there is a lack of storage facilities.  In addition, specials such as music or Spanish, are taught from a cart due to a lack of classrooms.  An analysis by the administration showed that the school is short 12-15 dedicated spaces to provide appropriate instructional environments, she said.

In addition to that, the increasing enrollment adds pressures.  According to the most recent professional enrollment projection, the district will accommodate almost 1,000 students in 2031.  Madonick said at its peak in 1969, the school had 1,129 students and 30 years later it had 995 students.  But in this day and age, education is taught differently than it was 30 years ago.  With an emphasis on more individualized instruction, smaller classrooms and a lot more support services, the needs have shifted.

In the meantime, the school is preparing logistics for the roof replacement work envisioned for the summer of 2024, as well as sidewalk repairs and fixing of drainage issues.  The committee working on that project is headed by the town.

This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.

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