Miscommunication at Erving Elementary creates pre-K enrollment issues

  • Erving Elementary School. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2023 6:30:58 PM
Modified: 9/20/2023 6:30:18 PM

ERVING — The Erving School Committee voted Tuesday to immediately enroll two preschool students after miscommunication between the School Committee and administration resulted in them being waitlisted through the start of the school year.

Parent Catherine Glennon, who recently moved to Erving, held back tears while recounting how she was kept “completely in the dark” as she sought to have her 4-year-old son enrolled in Erving Elementary School’s pre-kindergarten level. According to Glennon, while she enrolled her middle school-aged child with “no problem,” her preschool-aged child was initially waitlisted due to the program — reduced to a single classroom after staffing cuts — being “full.”

“This was confusing because everything we’d read … had no mention of limits or enrollment deadlines,” Glennon explained.

Then, a few weeks later, she thought her son was “in” when the committee voted to hire a second preschool teacher in early August. From that point until last weekend, however, Glennon said she received no confirmation that her son would be enrolled, a situation made more confusing by what she described as a “constantly changing” stance of the committee relative to hiring a second preschool teacher. The hiring process was extended to allow interim Principal David Krane, who began employment in late August, to take the lead.

“Last weekend, after several more fruitless calls to the school about when we might expect our son to start, the soccer season started and we finally met some of his peers,” Glennon continued, getting more emotional. “At their first practice, we learned that all other students were currently attending. They’re all getting to know each other and participating in the rituals of a new school year.”

She said that at the last School Committee meeting, she learned from Superintendent Jennifer Culkeen that there were two students left on the waitlist, and that one had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and would “definitely be enrolled.”

“By my count, that only leaves our son being excluded from pre-K,” Glennon said.

A public school teacher herself, Glennon argued that while Erving Elementary School’s singular preschool classroom has 18 students, there is no “set number” the district is obligated to adhere to and that other elementary schools have up to 19 students in their classrooms.

“Is my son really going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back with three adults in the room?” she said, referencing the assistance of paraprofessionals. “How long is he going to be excluded from school? Is he ever going to be included?”

Difficulties in hiring

Krane was the first to address Glennon’s concerns, his “principal’s report” expedited in the evening’s agenda for him to do so. He explained that while the district wants “kids to be in school when they’re supposed to be in school and [they] try to make every effort to make that happen,” it has been “very difficult hiring this late in the game.”

Later, he added that he thought the School Committee intended for him to maintain a waitlist until the arrival of the second preschool teacher, who is expected to start by the end of September.

“This school is a great community, but it also has children with needs and we are not covering their needs at this point the way that we need to as a school,” Krane acknowledged, referencing multiple positions that still need to be filled. “Even though we’ve been posting these positions, the difficulty in hiring is really the issue here, not the fact that we don’t want to provide two preschool [classrooms], we don’t want to provide a counselor, we don’t want to provide a school psychologist.”

School Committee member Jennifer Eichorn asked Krane why students would still be on the waitlist if there is a preschool teacher set to begin employment imminently. Krane responded that “the waitlist would have been put into place when there was the back-and-forth about whether to fund the second teacher” and that he didn’t “think it was ever changed.”

“We had only one preschool teacher at the time, and so we had those students placed on a waitlist,” Culkeen elaborated. “Yes, we do have two teachers, but …we don’t have two teachers in a classroom right now.”

“I didn’t know it was my responsibility to change the waitlist. If I knew, I would have, but the thing is that those children couldn’t attend the school anyway because there was nobody to teach them,” Krane said, explaining he was under the impression that the School Committee wouldn’t permit a class of more than 18 students.

Committee Chair Mackensey Bailey responded by saying he could enroll up to 20 students, even when the school currently has a singular preschool classroom, adding that the school looks to maintain a 1-10 student-to-adult ratio. Even though there is currently just one preschool teacher, the school meets this ratio with the presence of two paraprofessionals.

“We, philosophically, have never had that many children in,” Bailey said, “but to have two children just kind of hanging in the wings doesn’t seem reasonable anymore, and clearly, it sounds like it’s causing quite a bit of distress with at least one member of our community.”

“I don’t see the reason why, … given the person coming in, that we can’t immediately move forward and bring those students in at this point,” committee member Mark Blatchley said before making a motion to that effect.

Krane, who “was under the understanding that we weren’t going to expand the classes until we had another teacher in the classroom to divide the class into two separate sections,” then asked the committee why this wasn’t permitted earlier, considering the school’s staffing could have maintained the same ratio.

“I think that’s just possibly a difference of opinion or a miscommunication,” Bailey responded, “but I think, as Mark said, going forward from here, let’s enroll those two students.”

Krane and the committee agreed to enroll the waitlisted students. In addition, Krane offered to meet with Glennon’s family the next day to ensure that her son’s enrollment goes smoothly and comfortably. She said Wednesday afternoon that her family visited the classroom, met the paraprofessionals and affirmed that her son could start next week. She also noted that Krane “was super helpful and apologetic about the situation.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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