Published in the September 14, 2017 edition

FIRST GRADERS Brady Cioffi (left) and Tommy Miller are all smiles as they complete their first task on the first day of school last Wednesday for their teacher, Miss Slavin: delivering the daily attendance record for their classroom to the main office.
(Maureen Doherty Photo)


NORTH READING — The opening day of school on September 6 went off without a hitch despite a slightly higher tally of students reporting to the town’s five schools than had been projected.

The first day enrollment figures of 2,494 students represents 41 more students than anticipated.

The Class of 2018 still represents the highest number of students across the board, with 217. At the middle school level, grade 7 has the largest class, at 195, while at the elementary level, the fourth-graders represent the largest class at 204.

But the biggest surprise came at the kindergarten level, with an enrollment of 179 (kindergarteners started school last Friday).

Originally projected to be around 150, based on the birth rate of five and six years ago plus other demographic factors, such as the number of families moving into town with young children, the first indication that this number would be on the upswing came last February during the kindergarten screening process, Michael Connelly, the district’s Director of Finance and Operations, told the board.

In total, the schools welcomed 1,135 students at the elementary level, from pre-K through grade 5; 548 students in grades 6, 7 and 8; and 811 students at the high school, which includes three post-graduates.

“Honestly, I could not be more pleased with the opening to the new school year. All reports from the schools that I’ve received have been very positive,” Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard told the School Committee Monday night.

“I made the conscious decision on the first day of school to not be at the three elementary schools. As a former principal, I know there is a lot to do and I did not want to be in the way so I left them all alone,” Bernard added.

However, on Thursday Bernard said he and the finance director spent a total of two hours visiting all three elementary schools. “There is lot of nice energy in the schools. A lot of work goes on in the summertime to prep for the opening day,” he said.

On the Tuesday prior to opening day, which is the official start of school for all new and returning teachers, Bernard said he greatly appreciated the presence of all five School Committee members being in attendance as well as the welcoming comments School Committee Chairman Mel Webster made to the staff.

“Your presence means a lot; that you take the time to come and be a part of that day. It is important to me, and it has meaning for the district,” Bernard said.

“I’m really thankful not only for the folks that work for the district, but also for the students. My experience is that they clearly understand, no matter their age – pre-kindergarten, kindergarten – what their primary purpose is and why they are in school. Their parents are extremely positive and supportive,” the superintendent said, adding, “There was not a single bus issue reported to us. It was just a very good opening to the day.”

“I really appreciated Peter Kane’s words,” commented Webster, referring to the new president of the union that represents the district’s faculty, the North Reading Teachers Association. “I thought he gave an excellent speech in terms of what he focused on and the impact teachers have. I thought the whole day was excellent.”

Webster added that he and fellow School Committee member Julie Koepke also had a great time at the new teacher luncheon a week earlier, but admitted to feeling his age while dining with two new teachers who had gone to high school with his son.

And, based on his own Facebook observations, Webster agreed with Bernard that first few days of school have gone really well, noting that he had not received a single phone or email or social media post about complaints on school buses or any other issues.

Koepke said the smooth opening should be attributed to “the hard work the happens over the summer.”

Webster added the fact that the district did not “increase any fees” this year also helps.

Official figures released Oct. 1

Webster posed additional questions for both the superintendent and Connelly on the first day enrollment figures and how they aligned with last year’s projected enrollment of 2,453 for 2017-18 as well as the 2018-19 projection of 2,404 students.

School Committee member Jerry Venezia quipped, “We ought to go back to the Finance Committee and ask for more money!”

On a more serious note, Webster asked Connelly if they will have to re-do the projections, because he would be surprised if the schools drop 100 students between this year and next year.

They also need to consider that some parents have their kindergarteners enrolled in private school so next year’s first grade class could potentially have about 190 students, Webster said. Approximately six percent of kindergarteners attend private school, Connelly said.

Connelly said they will wait for the official enrollment figures to arrive on October 1 and then begin to do more research, such as obtaining birth rates and data from the Town Clerk, and then they’ll revise the numbers for the official presentation to School Committee on Nov. 13.

“We will relook at the percentages and redo the projections” after analyzing the assumptions that were made based on those projections, he explained.

“We look at three-, five- and 10-year survival rates, and then look at the percentages and what is going on with the housing market and developments in town and come up with a ‘survival ratio’ at each grade,” Connelly said.