Following public pressure, the district has added a second grade section at Tamaques School.

WESTFIELD, NJ — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for full-day public kindergarten in Westfield are on hold.

The school board’s long-range planning committee met earlier in May and determined it would be best not to move forward with plans for full-day kindergarten at this time, said board member Gretchan Ohlig, who chairs the committee.

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“It doesn’t make sense to move forward with respect to anything right now,” Ohlig said during the board’s virtual meeting Tuesday. “We’ll continue to examine opportunities [and] have conversations among the board members about what might make sense.”

Ohlig said the pandemic and its fiscal impacts have affected the board’s decision-making on this issue.

“We will continue to move forward on full-day kindergarten as it makes sense from both a fiscal and a timing perspective,” Ohlig said. “And of course, all of that [is] tempered by whatever this pandemic brings, and our ability to get back to life as we’ve always known it.”

“I think it’s important that we continue to have these conversations,” Ohlig said, adding that she hopes the full board can discuss the issue before the end of the school year. “We probably will have a better sense of what September will look like then.”

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During the meeting, Superintendent Margaret Dolan said enrollment for kindergarten students, as well as students in all other grades, remains similar to last year’s figures.

“We’ve been monitoring the enrollment across the board, and we haven’t noticed real changes yet. But we’ll continue to watch,” Dolan said.

Full-day kindergarten in Westfield has been up for discussion for several years. Last June, the school board recommended the district put forth a March 2020 referendum that would secure part of the funding needed for a full-day kindergarten program starting in September 2022. 

The March referendum would have been the first of two public votes necessary for the full-day kindergarten expansion. The second bond referendum, a proposal that would approve a $3 million increase in the district’s budget in order to fund teacher salaries, would have been introduced for public vote in November 2021.

New Second Grade Section Added

Meanwhile, the district has added another second grade section at Tamaques Elementary for the upcoming school year. The board on Tuesday approved the hiring of Mary Sica for a new second-grade teaching position at the school, with an annual salary of $76,614.

Sica’s hiring comes after concerns about first-grade class sizes at the elementary school this year. At a February school board meeting, several parents of first-graders advocated for the addition of a fifth section to reduce the average class size.

“This year, we had an average of 26 students per class in first grade,” said Lauren Casciano, one parent who spoke during the meeting. “Right now, there’s four [sections], we would need five to make sure those class sizes are down.”

At the February meeting, Dolan explained that that class sizes for academic subjects are not 26 pupils, but that the number of students in a classroom could reach 26 for certain subjects. She also said that the district would add a fifth section if enrollment did not decrease.

“If the numbers stay the same or go up, I’ve already spoke with the business administrator that we will need another section for second grade,” Dolan said in February. “We will look, but I don’t know where the numbers are going to go.”

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