By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — Offering free full-day kindergarten to families in Wakefield is among Superintendent of Schools Dr. Stephen K. Zrike’s top priorities and to move the issue forward, he and school board members are in the preliminary stages of examining the program’s potential for academic year 2015-2016.
“The School Committee and school district have publicly expressed the desire to expand early childhood education in Wakefield,” said Zrike. “The Doyle School is one example.”
The next step in the process is to review how every child in the district can access what Dr. Zrike refers to as a “robust” kindergarten experience.
Even though not mandated by law, Dr. Zrike said there is compelling research that in today’s world it is critical for students to have a strong and full kindergarten and pre-school experience because the academic expectations for children in that age group have increased with the new Massachusetts frameworks.
“There has been an increased push to have full-day kindergarten in the state and nationwide,” said Zrike. “In 2013-2014, 262 of 351 communities in Massachusetts offered the program tuition free.”
Currently, the regular fee is $4,000 per year, per child but a 10 percent discount ($3,600) is offered if tuition is paid prior to the start of school.
“We’ve heard a lot from Wakefield families that they want free full-day kindergarten for two reasons,” said Zrike. “First, they want the financial burden lifted from their shoulders and second, they want academic benefits for their children.”
Though the specifics have yet to be worked out, free full-day kindergarten would be part of the school budget, said Dr. Zrike.
“We would get a little more aid from the state,” he said. “Right now we receive half the reimbursable amount per kindergarten student because we cover the cost of half-day kindergarten for each student.
“However, this aid from the state would not cover the entire cost of offering tuition free kindergarten for every child,” he said. “There would be an impact on the budget.”
In the next several months, Dr. Zrike will give a presentation to the school board and larger community concerning free all-day kindergarten.
“I will speak on the benefits, costs and implications so the citizens of Wakefield know what this entails,” he said. “This is all about improving student learning and ensuring that every student is on the path to college and/or a successful career.
“Our children will be at a significant disadvantage if they are not provided with a rich and full kindergarten experience. We want to be sure that all students regardless of socio-economic level, experience and/or background is entering first grade at grade level or beyond. With increased expectations, I believe we have an obligation to our children/families to ensure that all students are fully prepared to thrive.”
At the school board meeting last week, members gave an evaluation of Dr. Zrike’s performance for his first year as superintendent of Wakefield’s schools. All comments were positive and pointed to his success at opening the Early Childhood Center at the former Doyle School, the smooth opening of the new Galvin Middle School, clear continuity of curriculum K-12, the launch of Parent University, his excellent communication style and the “tireless energy” he brings to the job.
He was also given high praise for transparency where the school budget is concerned.
Members also commented on his community engagement — ice cream socials, walks around Lake Quannapowitt and the community-wide summer reading challenge that ended with Dr. Zrike and Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio taking a dip in the Lake.
In response, Zrike said he wanted to concentrate on data analysis and long-term planning.
“I still have a lot to learn,” he said, pointing to budget and policy issues,” he commented. “I need to get staff to be part of the decision making process. There have been a lot of changes in teaching. The country is going through a lot of change.”
Aside from his evaluation, Dr. Zrike called attention to the Bring Your Own Device program.
“I didn’t know the impact this program would have (on our technology capacity). We’ve had between 1,600 and 2,000 devices (online) in the last few weeks and there has been an impact. It’s not a bandwidth issue. It has to do with a flat network. There’s too much traffic going through and slowing us down. We need to increase traffic flow quickly.” A team collaboration involving the School Department, town and vendor will resolve the problem, he said.
School board members approved a trip to Quebec City for grade eight students, tentatively from Wednesday, May 20 through Saturday, May 23. The cost of the trip (between $695 and $735) will be determined by the number of students participating. Teacher Stephanie Dolloff proposed the trip.
School board members also approved two gifts:
• $2,000 from Valetude LLC of Wakefield for the foreign language program at the Dolbeare School.
• $1,000 from IBM Corporation for the foreign language program at the Dolbeare school.