Young families keep moving into town, and a swelling school population reflects that trend. When school opened on Monday, August 28, Beecher Road School enrollment was up by 60 students over the start of the previous year, bringing the enrollment up from 770 in August 2016 to 830 this summer. That enrollment increase did not come unexpected, since about half of those students had moved into the district during the last school year. Just over 30 signed up throughout the summer for the new school year.
Despite the increase in the student population, class sizes by and large range within the recommendations adopted by the Board of Education, School Supt. Robert Gilbert told the board at its August 21 meeting. The recommendation for the younger grades, kindergarten to third grade, is 17 to 19 students per class; for fourth grade and up it’s 19 to 21 students per classroom. A few classrooms are slightly over in terms of the number of students.
The one area that has seen a dramatic increase is the pre-school program for three- and four-year-olds. Enrollment here has increased by more than 30%, according to Gilbert. It prompted the district to add another pre-K classroom in the afternoon to meet the demand. The program pairs students with identified needs with role model peers. It is a half-day program.
Two long-term teachers will not be back at Beecher Road School this year, namely special education teacher Mary Riley-Maier and PE teacher Brian Hocking. Third-grade teacher Arianne Buzzard moved into the health teacher spot to replace Mr. Hocking; and the district hired Aimee Meachem to teach the third grade class. Meaghan Saunders was tapped as a resource teacher in the special education program.
Responding to public pressure from some parents last spring, town officials agreed to keep the school resource officer on the police department payroll for one more school year. The officer, Vincent Lynch, provides security coverage during the morning drop-off and afternoon pickup as well as provides a police presence during the school day. He teaches a drug-and alcohol resistance program in the spring.
The Board of Education is now tasked with defining the security needs of the school in order to incorporate the security coverage into the upcoming budget plan for the 2018-19 school year. The board voted to form an ad-hoc committee with representation from the school board, school administration, the parents, PTO, also police and town representatives, teachers and office personnel. The board is asking parents to respond to a brief survey regarding security needs [details of the survey were not available as of press time]. In addition, committee members will be available at the school before each open house event August 31, September 5 and 12 for parents who are interested to get more information.
The questions that the board will need to respond to is what level of security personnel is needed, such as by a police officer or retired officer, or other security personnel; also whether it should be a full time or part time engagement, coverage during after-school activities, etc.
“What we’re trying to do is come together and figure out what we need,” board Chairman Margaret Hamilton said at the August 21 meeting. She said she hopes that the ad hoc committee will have a recommendation for the board in September, before the budget is being put together.
Under the leadership of Supt. Robert Gilbert, the district has adopted a new mission and vision statement, which then served as a guide to formulate a strategic plan for the upcoming three years and concrete goals for this school year.
Although the students are without any doubt the focus of the teaching and learning at the school, the Mission Statement addresses the whole school community, speaking of a “caring, creative community” that embraces diversity and “celebrates the unique qualities of each person.” [“Beecher Road School is a caring, creative community that models and inspires the joy of lifelong learning, embraces diversity and celebrates the unique qualities of each person.”]
The Vision Statement then challenges that community to empower students to persevere as innovators and collaborators to become responsible global citizens. [“To provide a dynamic educational environment that challenges and empowers students to persevere as innovators and collaborators in preparation for their role as responsible global citizens.”]
To fill these principles with life, the school is embarking on several new initiatives so as to enrich teaching and learning.
- The sixth grade teachers will be working to develop a model for a capstone project;
- Fifth-grade teachers will focus on project-based learning;
- Fourth-grade teachers will focus on “curriculum compacting,” or, as the superintendent explained, “How do I teach students who mastered the topic at hand,” with a focus on math;
- Third-grade teachers are implementing “enrichment clusters,” which allow kids to choose between topics they want to learn about;
- Kindergarten to second grade will explore the concept of purposeful play; and
- Specials teachers will explore the responsive classroom concept, incorporating cooperation and sense of community into subjects such as physical education and the arts.
“The focus through all of this continues to be academic excellence and the social and emotional development of all students,” the superintendent wrote to the community in The Bridge, the district’s periodical publication. “It’s no wonder new families come to Woodbridge because of the excellent education we offer.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent