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HARVARD – Enrollment figures for the Harvard Integrated Pre-School program have risen since September, and so a second pre-K teacher is being hired mid-year to split the student count into two classrooms.

Interim Harvard School Superintendent Joseph Connelly told the Harvard School Committee on Jan. 14 that he was advised of the swelling class size by former Special Education Director Pam DeGregorio, who met with Connelly before she retired in December. The preschool programming at Hildreth Elementary School must be balanced between special education and typically-developing students.

The school year opened with 12 preschool students. Currently, at its peak hours, the classroom is at 15 students.

Connelly advised that there are both three typically developing students on a waiting list, and 2-3 students being evaluated for special needs schooling. If they qualify for special education services, “we have an obligation to enroll them in pre-K,” said Connelly. If all were in attendance for the second half of the school year, their total number would exceed the maximum amount allowed by state law, said Connelly.

Presently there is one preschool teacher, Michelle Foreman, and three preschool learning assistants. At its peak hours, there are 11 special education- and 4 typical- students in the class for a total of 15 students.

By adding in more students, “That number can easily jump to 15-19 before the year is out,” said Connelly. He advised that a state regulation limits an integrated preschool class to no more than 15 students.

Connelly proposed one class remain in Room 133, but that adjacent, smaller classroom Room 136 be used for a second preschool classroom. Specialists that now use that space would be relocated elsewhere in the building. Connelly estimated the cost to hire a second preschool teacher for the second half of the school year to be between $21,000 and $23,000.

Connelly said the cost would be offset by $9,000 in tuition generated by the typical students enrolled in the program, that $8,500 is currently available in the preschool tuition revolving account, and that there’s $19,000 available in unspoken for Special Education Circuit Breaker funds – monies provided by the state to help cover special education costs.

“I think we can more than cover that $22,000 salary,” said Connelly.

Foreman’s class would have a total of 11-12 students and the second preschool classroom would consist of 6-7 students.

Connelly said the state recommends a 49 percent special education- to 51 percent typical- student ratios. “Here we have more special education so picking up typical will help us reach those ratios,” said Connelly.

Connelly stated that, if the committee approved, he’d seek to fill the second teaching post within a week or two. The hire would serve a six hour day, five days a week, for the balance of this school (and, so, fiscal) year. “If the enrollment requires that,” then the hire would stay on in the coming school year, too, said Connelly.

Committee member Keith Cheveralls said the news tends to “fly a bit in the face of our declining enrollment figures.” Connelly said its “hard to know yet” what the coming year will bring.

Connelly noted last year there were 1.5 preschool classrooms. This year, due to staff turn-over, the outreach for new preschool enrollees was “not as aggressive this year,” said Connelly. Now both HES Principal Linda Dwight and Interim Harvard Special Education Director Michael Dubrule are involved in the pre-K enrollment process.

Between the two, Connelly said there’s a more “aggressive outreach to identify as many preschool students as possible…You’ve got to imagine a town like Harvard can generate more than 12 preschool students.”

“Is there anything that prevents you from going the other way?” asked Cheveralls. “Can there be more typicals?”

Yes, said Connelly. “So let’s take the sign down off the [Town] Common that advertises other [private] preschools and make it a bigger program,” said Cheveralls. Connelly said the district was sending letters to all age-eligible residents in town and on Devens. “We’re going to do as much as we can to generate support for our own preschool,” said Connelly.

The committee voted to permit the hiring of a second preschool teacher for the second half of the school year in an amount up to $23,000.

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