As of noon yesterday – the first day of school – everything was running smoothly, reported Superintendent Richard D’Agostino.
D’Agostino joined Mayor Scott Avedisian shortly after 7 a.m. to greet freshmen as they arrived at Veterans Memorial High School. The rest of the classes return today. After Vets, D’Agostino looked in at other schools.
“The schools are in beautiful condition,” he said, praising the efforts of custodial staff and fire code improvements completed during the summer.
D’Agostino believes Warwick is ahead of most other districts in the state in meeting stricter fire code regulations following The Station Nightclub fire more than 11 years ago. He said the district has completed its three-year fire code improvement plan, with the exception of some work to be done at the Drum Rock Early Childhood Center and Greene School, which is being used for administrative offices. He said code improvements at Gorton and Aldrich Junior High Schools, which were recommended for closure due to declining enrollment, “are in limbo at this point.”
The district’s response to declining enrollment is likewise in limbo (consultants are to examine the issue this year), but the administration has moved ahead with all-day kindergarten at five elementary schools. Parents, teachers and the mayor enthusiastically greeted that development. The verdict was still out on students’ feelings.
D’Agostino said the prospect of all-day kindergarten at as many as eight schools surfaced in March, when kindergarten enrollment projections totaled 343, a decline of 153 from enrollment in the last academic year.
“It looked to be feasible to combine both morning and afternoon classes,” he said.
As registrations continued, three of the schools that had been under consideration saw kindergarten enrollments exceed 30, making it impossible for an all-day K. Under the teachers contract, class enrollment is not to exceed 23 students.
D’Agostino credited the union with agreeing to increase that number to 25, thereby assuring all-day K at Warwick Neck, Oakland Beach, John Brown Francis, Robertson and Scott Schools.
The Warwick Neck kindergarten numbers 24. That’s more students than teacher Elizabeth Morrissette is accustomed to, but she’s excited by what all-day can do.
“Half a day is such a short time. They’re here and they’re gone,” she said yesterday.
She said the added time with students would allow for her to cover the curriculum while giving the students time to socialize and make choices for selecting activities.
“It will give them a big block to socialize…they need that. They need to play and have fun,” she said.
Parent Karen DeLuca saw no drawbacks to a longer day.
“She’s so eager to learn,” she said of her daughter, Catherine, “All she wants to do is to learn to read.”
All-day K brought nods of approval from all the parents, although some were still finding it difficult to leave their children. And a few children, often the case on the first day, didn’t want to be left.
D’Agostino couldn’t say whether additional schools might join the roster of all-day K come next year. Although projects show enrollments continuing to drop, he could not say how many parents might transfer their children from day care or private schools. He noted that generally schools see a “bump” in enrollment in first grade as that is a full-day class.
Regardless of how many more all-day kindergartens they initiate, D’Agostino called the existing classes a “win-win” for parents, students and teachers.
Avedisian saw it as a positive, too. He said schools “are moving in the right direction.”
“Hopefully,” he said of the School Committee, “they’ll talk about the next step and how they can expand.”
The mayor said all-day K is a benefit to working parents as well.
“We have great day care centers.” Nonetheless, he said, “All-day K is where we want to be.”