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HARVARD — It’s settled. There will be four kindergarten classes at Hildreth Elementary School this fall.

The Harvard School Committee voted on July 23 to hire a fourth kindergarten teacher and, despite low kindergarten registration numbers at this time, to maintain four kindergarten classrooms.

Watching the enrollment figures closely, Superintendent Joseph Connelly had been regularly reporting to the committee. But the needle never jumped, hovering consistently around the 50 to 52 student mark. The hope was that there would be four classes of 15 students each, meaning the goal was to realize 60 registered kindergarten students for the fall.

But that number has yet to be reached. There were 50 registered kindergartners as of July 23, with two additional students “expected” to join the class once all necessary registration paperwork was complete.

The committee had delayed the decision on whether to have three or four kindergarten classes until later in the summer in hopes that the ranks would swell with summer home sales.

Kindergarten teacher Cynthia Hansen will shift into a second-grade classroom to fill a vacancy, leaving open the plans for the fourth kindergarten classroom.

HES Principal Linda Dwight provided three potential options: having three kindergarten classes, hiring a new teacher and having four kindergarten classes, and/or allowing two more school choice students into the kindergarten class to boost the headcount.

The committee opted against the school choice approach. Adding two choice students at the rate of $5,000 each (with the cost paid into the Harvard School District from the choice student’s hometown district) would have raised $10,000 to help defray the estimated $54,000 salary for a fourth teacher.

Adding two choice students would have brought the total number of kindergarten choice students to six. The district’s overall choice numbers would remain the same — adding two choice students would compensate for two choice students leaving the Bromfield School.

The additional kindergarten aide assistance that would flow from having a fourth class would provide another set of eyes to cover lunch and recess monitoring duties for all grade levels under this approach saving $24,000. With two new kindergarten choice students, the resulting 54 kindergartners could be divided into four classrooms — two classrooms with 13 students each, and two classes with 14 students each.

The approach would still allow for up to 18 more kindergarten students to move into district without exceeding the 18-student maximum kindergarten class size allowed under standing Harvard School Committee policy. In the end, the added choice student approach was disregarded.

The committee didn’t spend much time considering the three-kindergarten-class approach, opting instead to maintain the four-classroom kindergarten structure.

Under Dwight’s three-class scenario, there would be three kindergarten classes (sized 17, 17 and 18 students each). Since the kindergarten grade size policy is for 15 to 18 students per class, there would have only been room for just two additional “move in” students through the fall before the district would exceed the maximum class size policy and have to consider anew how to handle the kindergarten structure.

Money saved by not hiring a fourth kindergarten teacher could be spent instead on capital projects or curriculum materials, such as a handwriting program for HES. With three classes, two half-day kindergarten aides would not be needed (saving $28,000) but the added help would be needed for recess/lunch aide duty coverage for the other grades (costing $24,000).

In the end, the committee embraced the maintenance of four kindergarten classes. With four kindergarten class rooms of 13 students each, it was the most expensive model among the three in terms of the teacher/aide-to-student ratio.

The four-K approach also allows 20 move-in students without breaching the maximum class size policy. All kindergarten aides would be on deck to cover lunch and recess duties for all grade levels, saving $24,000 in added cost. And the approach maintains the same number of teachers — four — on each grade level throughout HES.

Bromfield lunch price increases

On the heels of an increase in school lunch costs at HES last school year, students returning to the Bromfield Middle/High School in the fall will now pay more for lunch. Each price in the tiered menu choices will uniformly climb by $1.

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