Published in the March 31, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — The School Committee voted unanimously to pilot a hybrid kindergarten program at the Little School for the 2016-2017 school year last week.

Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard proposed piloting the hybrid kindergarten program at the Little School next year after a group of Little School parents expressed concerns about being placed on the wait list for full day kindergarten and were facing the possibility of their children attending full day kindergarten at the Batchelder School.

Bernard said the plan entails having a blend of full day kindergarten and half day kindergarten classes in two classrooms at the Little School. He noted Lynnfield is currently utilizing a hybrid kindergarten program in that community’s two elementary schools, and he said Lynnfield Superintendent Jane Tremblay informed him the program has been able to accommodate full day and half day students.

Additionally, Bernard discussed the proposal with Little School Principal Christine Molle and kindergarten teachers Deborah Aldrich and Lorraine McBride.

“We have come up with a plan that is educationally sound,” said Bernard.

The superintendent said there are 37 kindergartners enrolled at the Little School. He said there are 27 students enrolled in the full day kindergarten program in addition to seven students on the wait list. He said there are 10 students enrolled in the half day program. He said the plan entails having 18 and 19 students in two classes, which will contain either 13 or 14 full day students and five half day students.

Bernard noted students enrolled in the half day program will be in class from 8:55 to 11:35 a.m., while full day students will be in class until school is dismissed at 3:10 p.m.

“Lunch periods for the school would be adjusted to ensure that a natural break would occur at the lunch hour so that when the full day students go to lunch, the half day students would go home,” said Bernard.

Bernard said all kindergartners would arrive on the regular bus in the morning and half day students would take a bus home at 11:35 a.m. He also noted there is a before school program available to all kindergarten students and an after school program, which is run by the YMCA on site, will only be available to full day students.

The superintendent said, “Core academic subjects and curriculum requirements will be satisfied in the morning.” He said English language arts, math, science and social studies will be taught in the morning. After lunch, full day students will participate in additional specials, enrichment activities, free play and recess. He said half day students “may have homework to complete” based on what was covered in class. He said full day students will complete these assignments in the afternoon.

According to Bernard, half day kindergartners currently have music, physical education and art classes that each last 30 minutes as well as an hour-long digital learning class.

“All of these classes are occurring in the morning for the half day students,” said Bernard.

Bernard said full day students currently have two 30-minute music, art and physical education classes in addition to the hour-long digital learning class. He said these classes are scheduled in the afternoon and morning.

The superintendent said the hybrid model will ensure half day and full day students will have access to the same specials the Little School offers.

“Half day students would continue to receive the same specials they have always had, scheduled in the morning,” said Bernard. “Full day students would continue to have the same number of specials but their second sessions of music and physical education would occur in the afternoon after the after half day students have gone home.”

School Committee Vice Chairman Mel Webster asked Bernard if the plan would be set up in the same way Lynnfield’s kindergarten curriculum is organized.

Bernard said North Reading’s curriculum will be set up “a little bit different,” but he noted Lynnfield is looking to move to a tuition–free full day kindergarten program next year.


There were around nine parents who attended the meeting and most of the parents expressed their support for the hybrid pilot program at the Little School. There were two parents who raised concerns about the plan.

Saugus kindergarten teacher Kelly Donahue, 16 Pomeroy Rd., raised concerns about the hybrid kindergarten plan.

“I just feel this is going to be a watered down curriculum,” said Donahue.

Bernard reassured Donahue the full day kindergarten program is not being compromised.

“I would not have brought it forward to the committee if I thought it was going to be watered down,” said Bernard. “I wouldn’t have brought this forward if I didn’t think it was educationally sound.”

Bonnie Miller, 4 Southwick Rd., thanked school officials for developing the hybrid model proposal for the Little School.

Scott Buckley, 5 Alden St., expressed his support for the hybrid kindergarten program.

“I am more than willing to try a new program,” said Buckley. “I think the School Committee and superintendent have been great to offer full day kindergarten to everybody in the district.”

Buckley inquired if half day students want to enroll in the full day program, would students be given the opportunity to switch even if it occurs in October.

Bernard said kindergartners will be able to transition from half day to full day.

“I am very confident in saying that we are committed to making this work,” said Bernard. “If there is a family who raises the issue in October and says, ‘my son is crying every time he has to leave,’ I feel confident the teachers and principal will be able to make that experience better.”

An unidentified parent who works as a social worker also raised concerns about the proposal. She said the “disruption” caused by having half day students leaving their full day counterparts to go home is a “concern.” She also raised concerns about teachers trying to “catch up” half day students.

Webster said teachers will not have to “catch up” half day kindergartners because the curriculum will be taught in the morning.

“We have to implement the full curriculum for half day kids,” said Webster.

School Committee member Julie Koepke concurred Webster’s sentiments.

“I understand your concerns about half day and full day,” said Koepke. “If we could afford it, we would have full day kindergarten for all. I am confident that Ms. Molle and our kindergarten teachers have created a plan that is feasible.”

School Committee member Jerry Venezia agreed.

“Our first objective this year was to ensure every child who wanted full day kindergarten got it,” said Venezia. “We did that and the next step is to accommodate everybody at their home school.”

After the School Committee voted to implement the hybrid kindergarten program, all but one of the parents in attendance left the meeting just as the School Committee and Bernard were about to discuss the school department’s preliminary fiscal year 2017 budget proposal of $28,652,189, the current $336,940 budget gap and the proposed fee increases.

“The issue in this community isn’t a hybrid kindergarten program,” said Bridle Way resident Deanna Castro during the school budget discussion. “The issue in this town is so much bigger than that. It’s time for parent involvement to get back to the Chapter 70 (state funding for education) issue.”