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Changes and plans are in place for start of the school year

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW With the start of the new school year on Tuesday, the Longmeadow Public Schools will be saying goodbye to some and hello to others as well as dealing with some changes.

Kindergarten Resources

Last May, after kindergarten orientation, the projected enrollment numbers for kindergarten seemed significantly lower than what had been projected in January 2008, according to Superintendent E. Jahn Hart. The Finance Subcommittee and the administration agreed the schools should be prepared to reduce classroom sections where numbers were lower than anticipated.

On July 31, elementary principals Kimberly Stillwell (Center School) and Marie Pratt (Blueberry Hill School) and Hart saw that existing staffing levels would result in class sizes of 11.7 at Blueberry Hill and 13.5 at Center. Comparatively, Wolf Swamp had an average class size of 17.

By reducing a .5 classroom section at each school in question, the class sizes would change to 18 at Blueberry Hill and 17.5 at Center. "The decision was made to eliminate the sections since the resulting class sizes were close to the recommended class size range for K[indergarten] through [grade] three," Hart stated in a release to the School Committee.

"We decided to eliminate a section but add more kindergarten assistants," Hart told the School Committee during their Aug. 25 meeting. "These classes require a second set of hands and a second pair of eyes."

"We're definitely committed to working with teachers to evaluate the use of assistants," Stillwell said.

The assistants would be allocated by the needs of each classroom but would be used as equitably as possible, according to Pratt.

School Improvement Plans

The start of the new academic year also requires the review of School Improvement Plans (SIPs), which were presented to the School Committee by Assistant Superintendent Maureen Wilson.

Blueberry Hill plans on focusing on improving students math skills through identifying and supporting students who need math assistance, with teachers in grades kindergarten through three teaching at least one investigations unit, creating a math resource lab, improving students' word problem skills and setting mastery expectations for each grade level for math facts.

Blueberry Hill is also aiming to improve students' written expression skills across the curriculum by creating common language and tools, improving writing on open response questions and educating parents on the Collins Writing Program.

Center School will also be focusing on improving math and English language skills, as well as making sure students will be socially responsible, caring and positive in a school atmosphere based on elements of the social curriculum, health, safety and wellness guidelines. The school aims to do this by expanding physical exercise opportunities, promoting healthy snacks in school, implementing Responsive Classroom elements in every classroom daily, such as a "morning meeting," providing a supportive climate for children where good behavior is reinforced and character themes are used on a quarterly/monthly basis school wide.

Wolf Swamp School shares the same goals as Center School improving students' skills in mathematics, writing and improving students' health, wellness and safety.

At the middle school level, Glenbrook is looking to improve math skills and improve student social and emotional learning (SEL) outcomes for their self-evident purposes and for their contribution towards achieving academic excellence. To do this, the school will collect data relevant to understanding the specific SEL needs of its students, meaningfully involving parents and the community in exploring and addressing those needs, investigating and piloting SEL curricula, advisory programs or other schoolwide initiatives and growing a strong extracurricular/afterschool program for students.

Glenbrook also aims to create a professional learning community among faculty.

At Williams, the focus will be on improving math skills, creating an emotionally safe environment so students feel comfortable and improving student health, wellness and safety.

The high school is looking to improve student academic achievement by expanding the use of the John Collins Writing Program, enhancing classroom learning activities through the use of technology, continuing to develop and refine assessment tools that measure a student's proficiency in meeting school and departmental expectations for learning, having teachers develop course syllabi for all courses and providing opportunities for teachers to share effective classroom strategies.

Longmeadow High School is also aiming to improve student MCAS performances.

The SIPs will be in place from July 2008 to June 2010.

No Child Left Behind Grants

Thomas Mazza, the School Business Manager for Longmeadow, announced at the School Committee meeting that No Child Left Behind Grants exceeded what was budgeted for the fiscal year. A total of $157,461 in grant funds were allocated to the Longmeadow Public Schools for FY09, the full amount requested by the district.