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Wellesley will see override soon to fund full-day kindergarten, new school programs, superintendent says

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  October 11, 2013 02:00 PM

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Wellesley superintendent David Lussier said he expects to ask the town for a tax override next fiscal year to fund full-day kindergarten and language courses for young Wellesley students.

The expected override would also help boost teacher development programs and support new educators in Wellesley, as outlined in the district's five-year strategic plan drafted by Lussier and the School Committee last year.

"For the kinds of growth and investments we want to do on the school side, it seems like the only way to do that is through an override," Lussier said Friday.

Lussier said it was too early to put a price tag on the programs, but noted that he would know the figures by December, when he is due to present the numbers to officials as the town drafts the 2015 fiscal year budget.

"We’re in the process of planning for it, so we don’t have a price yet or details sketched out," he said.

Lussier's override prediction comes as district officials are inviting parents to two forums this month to hear more information about full-day kindergarten, and to let them voice their opinions on the new schedule.

The forums will be held Oct. 17 at 9 a.m. in Sprague Elementary School's cafeteria, and Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in Wellesley High School's faculty dining room.

But for school officials, the question is not if -- or even when -- full-day kindergarten will be implemented in Wellesley; the only question is how.

"Full-day kindergarten will begin to happen next year," Lussier said. "We don't know if it will be happening on day one, or if it will be phased in, but a transition will begin next year."

Kindergarten teachers are already full-time staff, Lussier said, but the district will have to restructure the curriculum and possibly add more teaching assistants, as well as revisit the busing schedule, to help make the full-day idea reality.

But Lussier said there is good reason for the switch: studies have shown that more time in the classroom at an early age improves both learning and social skills, two abilities that prove tougher to boost as kids grow older, he said.

"I think nationally, we're seeing a great deal of interest in expanding both pre-school options and kindergarten options," he said. "The research is just so compelling. It's easier to address challenges and deficits early in their school career, and it puts kids on equal playing fields before it becomes more challenging to address."

Lussier said the new kindergarten schedule would also ultimately help ease parents' burden of finding care and education opportunities for their kids outside of school.

"With the half day model, we're finding that parents are trying to recreate that experience out of school anyway," he said. "It's something we think makes a lot of sense and see a lot of interest in as well."

In addition to full-day kindergarten, Lussier said officials also plan to begin language courses for younger students starting next year.

Currently, the district begins language classes at the middle-school level. But Lussier hopes to begin phasing in the courses to elementary schools, eventually teaching new languages at the kindergarten level.

"It's a no-brainer," he said. "It's common in most countries around the world to have kids speak more than one language. We know it creates not just career opportunities, but it also helps students in being open to other cultures and to diversity."

The five-year district plan also envisions a heavier investment in Wellesley educators, funding leadership and professional development plans for teachers and administrators and encouraging them to collaborate on projects together. Officials also hope to instate a mentor program for first-year teachers in the district.

"This is not necessarily new activity, but enhancing things that are already in place," Lussier said. "We want to build and expand on some of our current work."

As for the override Lussier expects to ask for, the superintendent said he would make sure to bundle all the programs he envisions into one figure.

"We haven't had an override in Wellesley in a number of years," he said. "We don’t want to be in a position where we have to keep going back to the town."

For more information on the district's five-year plan, visit Wellesley's public schools' official website.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourwellesley, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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