The Derry Cooperative School District will tweak the way it registers children for kindergarten, after a study and presentation by five of the district’s administrators.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Kellan, elementary principals Matt Olson, Dan LaFleur and Chris MacCallum and Derry Early Education Program (DEEP) Administrator Jane Boyle appeared at the Oct. 11 School Board meeting to discuss the changes, which Kellan said would better prepare the parents for fall and the board and administrators for budgeting.
Kellan said the administrative team currently begins the process in February for the following year. “By the time we’re done, it is closer to April,” he told the board and television audience.
The administrators know that even with an earlier registration process, they will never have all the children registered. “Some of the kids don’t even live in Derry yet,” Kellan said.
“Some parents start asking us in September,” Boyle said. “Parents want to plan ahead. It’s an important piece of why we want to start earlier.”
Kellan said, “We want to reduce some of that anxiety.”
An earlier registration time would improve parent readiness for their child’s kindergarten, and also student readiness, Kellan said. Some children come to the system with gaps between what they know and what they need to know.
“We need as much information as possible, in order to identify needs before kindergarten,” he said.
Kellan admitted that some members of the study group came in with “preconceived notions.” They thought that online registration would be the answer to many of these needs. But consultation with the school secretaries gave them another picture.
“To the secretaries we were saying, ‘Look at this wonderful gift we’re giving you,’” Kellan said of the online registration.
But the secretaries told the group they enjoy the personal contact with families, he said. “There are a variety of things that come with a personal connection,” he said, including more comfort for both parent and student. When time permits, Kellan said, the secretaries are able to take the new families on a school tour, thus cementing relationships and improving that comfort level.
“They asked us not to take the registration away from them, and not to take it out of the schools,” he said, observing that another option considered was having registration at the SAU (School Administrative Unit) office.
The secretaries agreed to have the registration forms online, but to keep the actual sign-up within their walls.
Kellan said the committee also discussed tweaking the dates for registration. They first considered using the month of September, but the secretaries recommended November instead. The group agreed to propose a November registration for 2016-17, and moving it back to October for 2017-18.
Kellan also said the committee recommends registration by appointment. Last year it was first-come, first-serve, he said. “The feedback we got,” he said, “was that appointments were easier.”
Olson, principal of South Range Elementary School, said that if the board approved the changes, the new registration policy would be advertised in every possible medium, including the district and school Web sites, a brochure, social media, doctors’ offices, newspapers and the Parent Teacher Association. “You can never have too much advertising,” he said.
The committee members said if parents miss the one-month “window” for registration, they can register their child at a later date. But having the early registration “push” will help them with budgeting, because they will have a better handle on how many children will be in the next year’s first grade.
“I’m glad you included the secretaries,” board member Brenda Willis told the committee. “They’re the ones directly involved.”
Willis said she liked the idea of an earlier registration because, “This will help us to project out, and show where the needs are.”
Who’s on first?
Board member Erika Cohen asked, “Is full-day kindergarten first-come, first-serve or by lottery?” That should be spelled out in the brochure, she said.
Cohen has personal experience in trying to register a child for the full-day program. “First-come, first-serve isn’t the best way,” she noted. “Parents who can’t come to the registration send the forms with other people, and the 18 slots fill up fast.”
Kellan said the committee had discussed first-come versus lottery, and “There is not a perfect way.”
Board chair Dan McKenna observed, “if you don’t know until May whether your child is in morning or afternoon kindergarten, what’s the incentive for registering in November?”
“You can check it off and move on,” Olson told him.
McKenna returned to the theme, saying, “We need to incentivize people so they’ll want to do this.”
Kellan countered, “Earlier registration will increase the likelihood that the family will get the half-day they prefer, or get full-day kindergarten.”
Board members worried about making promises, especially where the coveted full-day kindergarten is concerned.
“What if we tell someone they’ve got full-day, and then there are too many children?” Willis asked. “I’m not an advocate of having a class of five children.”
McKenna said, “Are we willing to say, ‘If you register by Nov. 30, you will get full-day kindergarten?’”
“I don’t think we can guarantee it,” member Derick Anderson said.
Cohen pointed out that the kindergarten year “is kind of an unplanned year anyway. A lot of parents decide their child isn’t ready and could use another year in preschool.”
McKenna said, “My concern is that when registration opens on Nov. 1, parents are clear on what they’re signing up for. What is the district committing to? We need to decide that prior to Nov. 1.”
Willis said, “It pains me to say this. But if we get 18 students for a full-day class, the others should go on a wait list. That’s unless we want to go against everything we’ve ever said about class sizes.”
The board voted in the majority to approve the registration plan, with McKenna a dissenting vote. “It’s not fair to the parents who are prepared to pay a deposit, if we’re not able to guarantee them the slot,” he said.
“At least we’ll be able to plan,” Willis said of the proposal. “It’s a work in progress, but now we’re making plans well into spring. It is better than what we have now.”