By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — In an effort to continue enhancing the town’s preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds, the district is seeking to have those classrooms housed back at the Summer Street School next year. This move is being stressed in the current budget development process for the School Department.
Bringing both learning communities together would benefit students and staff, Special Services Director Kara Mauro believes, by improving opportunities for interaction between the professional staff and alignment of curriculum goals.
“Our main focus at the preschool is to establish an effective professional learning community, to really work with the staff and to be spending more of our time … talking about really focused work with our students in our 3-year-old class and our 4-year-old class,” Mauro told the School Committee last week.
The preschool serves both typically developing youngsters and those with special needs, therefore, both classroom teachers hold dual certifications in early childhood and special education.
Both the speech and language pathologist and the occupational therapist share their caseload with the Summer Street School, Mauro said. Returning the preschool to this elementary school would cut down on travel time and give the therapists more time with students and colleagues. The district also has one physical therapist and one board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) who currently travels between the five school sites and both would therefore also spend less time traveling.
Another drawback in housing the preschool off-site in space shared with the Lynnfield Senior Center is the fact that there isn’t a nurse on-site or an administrator, she said.
Moving the preschool would also free up space at Town Hall for other departments because central office school administrative functions could be moved to the current preschool site.
Current class structure
Class options are Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday/Thursday. Mauro said the 3-year-old classes are best run in the morning sessions because it is “challenging at that development level for students to sustain energy in the afternoon.” The 4-year-old classes are offered both morning and afternoon.
Mauro explained that since the preschool receives “early intervention referrals” throughout the year at the 3-year-old level they try to keep the class size at a reasonable range. It averages 10 students per class supported by three adults. Currently, they have 12-14 students enrolled in each class at the two age levels.
“In our 4-year-old class we are prioritizing students who are going into kindergarten the following year. These students are considered our pre-kindergarten class,” she said.
“Our main focus is on assessment, monitoring student progress and making sure we have a clear idea of what is expected at kindergarten level,” she said.
The district used a preschool SPED program improvement grant to work with both Preschool Team Chair Christina Ryan and Maureen Fennessey to “get some consistency … and take the model that has been so effective at the elementary level and bring it down to the preschool level,” Mauro said.
“Some great ideas came from both Maureen and Christina about how they wanted to run this group,” Mauro said. Chief among them was opening up a focus group for professional development to out-of-district preschool teachers to gain more perspectives.
Ryan told the committee that she and Fennessey created a four-day workshop series with eight participants, including Lynnfield’s two teachers.
“The goal of our class has been to unpack the new PreK 2011 Mass. standards to have all the preschool teachers see that there are standards in place and what they are,” Ryan said.
They started with the “guiding principles” for ELA and math – the standards for mathematical practice and the anchor standards for reading.
“In the last session I was able to work with the group on math all day. We went through every math standard and had them work together to come up with what each standard would look like in a 3-year-old classroom as well as in a 4-year-old classroom and how it would be assessed,” Ryan said.
“We’re trying to give them a true document that they can leave with that lists out every standard in both ELA and math with examples of how it can be used and how it can be assessed,” Ryan said. They will repeat this action plan with the ELA standards at the next session.
“We are so lucky that we have Huckleberry and Summer Street,” Ryan said, explaining, “When we get together for professional development we can put all of our heads together on a team. This (workshop) has been able to give us that opportunity. They’ve been sharing ideas, links, actual resources they can purchase.”
The teachers in the workshop were so excited about what they were learning that they spent a lunch break traveling to the Lakeshore store to pick up the educational aids discussed for use in their classrooms, Ryan said.
“I am looking forward to our first preschool assessment meeting on Jan. 26. We will be meeting with the preschool teachers to talk about every student enrolled, just like we are doing at the elementary level; that has been in place for the past 12 years,” Ryan said.
Mauro said that Ryan and Fennessey also proposed conducting follow-up classroom visits.
“Christina and Maureen are arranging time to go into our preschool classrooms to see everything that was discussed in action and to also be open to pick apart what they tried, what worked, what didn’t and make a plan for next time,” Mauro said.
“Teachers have really taken advantage of that and have even gone further to say, ‘Would you model a lesson for me around this area?'” Ryan said, adding, “I’ve also joined other preschool teachers to talk about how a kindergarten or a first grade lesson could be made into a PreK lesson.”
The district’s preschool teachers have also sat in on the kindergarten assessment meetings “to get a sense of what the expectations are now,” Mauro said. Since they previously taught some of those kindergarten students they’ve contributed to the assessment process, she said.
Socializing skills remain paramount
“If I was a preschool parent hearing the emphasis on ELA and math tonight, I would wonder about the social side of learning, which I think of as a big part of a preschool. I am assuming that is in no way ignored,” commented School Committee member Dorothy Presser.
Ryan said, “We have put the emphasis on oral language because it is so important that they are playing and having those social interactions in preschool.” Kindergarten teachers worry about the readiness of their incoming students being in a classroom setting, working with peers and being ready to learn, she said.
“It’s not as much about the math and the ELA as it is their readiness for school,” Ryan said. They emphasize that the preschool teachers can “pull the curriculum that needs to be taught into the socializing that they need to be doing anyway and the play that we want them to be embracing.”
Mauro said the opportunities for play are built into the three-hour preschool day at both age levels. They start their day with “free choice” to facilitate play before moving into small group centers followed by time outdoors for recess and snack. “Our focus is to make every opportunity a learning opportunity” but those lessons are not “drill and kill in ELA and math. They’re learning how to be in school, how to be with their friends in a group setting, how to share, how to interact socially,” Mauro said.
“I don’t want anyone to think that the (PreK) assessment meetings are going to be about pulling in math, ELA, science and social data,” said Superintendent of Schools Jane Tremblay. “It’s really talking about their readiness skills – how is this child doing playing outside with friends? How is this child’s self skills in terms of being able to put on his own coat, zip his own coat, put on his bookbag?”
While the assessment meetings for preschoolers “look very different than they do for the kindergarten students or the older learner,” Tremblay said it is “still very important” for the teachers to be discussing ways to help a child who is having a hard time socializing to become successful and self-sufficient.
School Committee member Salvatore Cammarata commented that “there is a great balance between social and emotional learning and academic endeavors.”
Presser said she was “thrilled” to have the preschool moving back to Summer Street. “No one dreamed that the preschool program would be at Summer Street for as short a time as it was when that building was renovated,” she said.
School Committee Chairman Chris Barrett said he believes moving the preschool back to Summer Street would be “a great move.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the preschool program. Just a simple thing as the availability of a nurse, that is a huge piece of the preschool program. I see a lot of positives and I am looking forward to it happening,” Barrett said.