In regards to the Superintendent’s proposed budget for the 2015-2016 school year (http://www.windsorct.org/pages/Windsor_Public_Schools/District/Board_of_Education/BOE_Budget), I appreciate the extra time and care that was put into creating the document. I consider it to be more informative than the 2014-2015 proposed and adopted budget that we are currently operated within.
It must have taken more time for the Superintendent, Business Manager, and others involved in the process to make changes in how the budget is presented, while also providing a greater amount of information to the public.
Before we get into the more challenging areas of the budget – I am grateful for the opportunity to review the document. It has been a positive experience discussing the details with everyone who has been involved.
If you read the budget, or quickly review the Highlights that Melissa provided early in the week (https://windsorrights.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/2015-2016-proposed-budget-highlights/), you will quickly note that the greatest reduction is in this in the area of staff, or personnel. Twenty-four (24) Paraprofessional positions are being cut from the Superintendent’s proposed budget for the 2015-2016 school year, which is next year’s budget. This includes 12 Special Education Paraprofessional positions and 12 Kindergarten Paraprofessional positions.
As it has been explained to us during a BoE Finance Committee Meeting, the reduction of 12 Special Education (Special Ed.) Paraprofessionals (Paras) will be cost-effective because the current model of Special Ed. Paras is unsustainable. This creates unease The idea of losing 12 Special Ed. Paras is difficult to imagine, because those positions were made available for a reason. What has changed?
The remaining 12 Para positions are within the Kindergarten classrooms. The reduction in 12 Kindergarten Paras has been proposed to allow for two (2) Kindergarten teachers and two (2) “Reading Teacher/Leader” positions to be added to the district. See table included on the lower half of page 3 in the budget.
The Superintendent assured us that each of the Kindergarten classrooms could be managed by a single teacher because there will be a reduction in the number of students in each classroom. It is anticipated that there will be 15 students per classroom, as suggested by the National Education Association. I found this document, (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB08_ClassSize08.pdf) that states, “NEA supports a class size of 15 students in the earliest grades of regular school programs”.
At this point, I would like to highlight how wonderful it was that so many Paraprofessionals came out to speak during the January 29, 2015 public form on the budget. To have such a large turnout was wonderful to experience. Your comments demonstrated a true commitment to supporting and guiding our students towards achieving success, whether that is academically, socially, and/or emotionally.
I found myself agreeing with statements made regarding the positive support that Paras provide in each of the Kindergarten classrooms, along with the influence of direct one to one support that Special Ed. Paras provide. The idea of losing any of these positions is challenging to consider, but losing 24 seems like a major shift in a district wide approach to of each seems like a big change. Personally, I find the 12 Kindergarten Paraprofessional positions to be the more impactful of the two.
There are multiple reasons why I believe that the reduction in Kindergarten Paras will potentially result in an additional barrier for student is because 4 and 5 year olds need as many trusted and supportive adults as possible. The more positive role models both within and outside of the home is a demonstrated protective factor. Check this article out for publication on protective factors (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/protective_factors.pdf)
It’s important to note that the language used in the document that I linked above includes things like at risk and abuse and neglect. Please consider looking over those words and continue reading with the frame of mind that we can establish community norms that are centered on supporting children simply by being the best educator, or other key adult, in students’ lives.
It is also important to recognize that Paras provide the support to the teacher to ensure that there is very little disruption in the instruction or general management of the classroom. The volume of information that teachers are required to teach has grown, while teaching methods have changed quite a bit to incorporate greater use of technology.
There is also a greater emphasis on small group activities. With the wide range of skills and current abilities in each of the classrooms it would make sense to break up students for core knowledge areas. Having a dedicated classroom Para to assist with the classroom is going to be important for the little ones. It is widely accepted that kindergarteners need routine, structure, and predictability within the day is critical.
It all sounds like it could be solved by adding the Kindergarten teachers resulting in the classroom size dropping down to 15. However, it is important to note that the district is actively working on strengthening the public perception of our schools, and seeks to offer additional preschool opportunities that will encourage parents to send their kids to a public preschool option. This certainly contradicts the intention of smaller classroom sizes.
I would say that what I’m most worried about is ensuring that all of our 4 and 5 year olds have the opportunity to connect with the joy of learning through the trusted moments established within the classroom? The experiences that they have within the classroom during those formative years of early childhood development will set the tone for how they will perceive education for the rest of their life.