Springfield School Board proposes taking first strategic plan step

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – On Jan. 15, the Springfield School Board agreed to a budget proposal that would take a significant step forward on their strategic goals. A keystone of the proposal is the creation of a public pre-kindergarten to be housed at Elm Hill School. Under the proposal, the pre-K would enroll 30 Springfield students for full-day programming. That opportunity would use multiple classrooms at Elm Hill and would create a public-private partnership with a to-be-determined private childcare provider. The overall offering would create a program that would provide parents with a robust educational program and wrap-around childcare. The school district would staff the pre-K portion, and the private provider would staff for wrap-around care.

“The proposed budget is developed around our newly created strategic plan. The first pillar of the strategic plan is academic success, with a goal of developing a pre-kindergarten program. The goal is to deliver a comprehensive education to all of our students,” said School Board member Troy Palmer.

“As a district, we have been having a multi-year conversation about our need to expand early intervention for our youngest learners,” said Dr. Zach McLaughlin, superintendent of schools. “The research on strong pre-K programs is hard to dispute. We think that creating an opportunity like this is great for the students enrolled, but we also think it will have a positive ripple effect through our entire system.”

This district plan hopes to place the in-school program as one choice amongst many other pre-K options in the community.

“One of the main goals while conducting research to add two pre-K classrooms to Elm Hill was economic impact. We wanted to ensure that families had access to pre-K services and wraparound supports but also wanted to ensure that we did not disrupt any of the current private pre-K and childcare programs operation and staff,” said Rachel Hunter, the district’s early education coordinator.

“The district also wanted to ensure that we retained the mixed-delivery model ensuring that families had choice of the setting that best fit their needs. We looked at the number of pre-K children in the district versus the number of slots available and additional factors such as the number of programs planning to close. We quickly learned that there are not enough slots available to serve all children and many families are struggling to return to the workforce or find a slot that doesn’t require excessive travel time. By retaining the mixed-delivery model, families can choose from licensed centers, Head Start, family child care, and now the planned in-house school pre-K.”

Let’s Grow Kids has been a generous supporter of this project and awarded the Springfield School District with a grant for expansion. Grant funds will be used for building up-fit including carbon monoxide detectors, gates for the existing fencing, key swipes for doors, components of technology, and also high-quality equipment to outfit the classrooms.

In addition to the funds provided by Let’s Grow Kids, the district plans to utilize approximately $600,000 in state and federal money to offset the cost of the pre-K roll-out. Those funds are available in $200,000 distributions over the next three years.

The board’s proposal will also mean the shifting of second grade to Union Street Elementary School and fifth grade to Riverside Middle School. To help answer public questions about the change, the district has put a variety of resources on its webpage. The public can find materials including a live Frequently Asked Question document by going to the Budget Information section under the “Central Office” tab. In addition, the district is planning seven different public forum opportunities prior to Town Meeting Day.

“We really think that we will be creating a program that could be a model for the state of Vermont. We also understand that this is a forward charging proposal that pushes the status quo. When you suggest these types of shifts, it is crucial that you engage the public as much as you can. We will be busy with a lot of forums during the month, but we know it is important to have more dialogue and answer people’s questions,” explained McLaughlin.

On Town Meeting Day, Springfield voters will vote on two separate budget articles. One article will ask for their decision on the core expenditure budget of $32.6 million. The second article will ask voters to approve the additional $125,333 in local funds necessary to contribute to the pre-K project.

Springfield’s vote will be held Tuesday, March 3 at Riverside Middle School. While some dates and times are still being finalized for some of the planned public forums, the following are tentative dates:

  • Union Street Grade Shift Forum at Union Street School, Feb. 5 at 5:30 p.m.
  • Riverside and All-4-One Grade Shift Forum at Riverside Middle School, Feb. 6 at 5:30 p.m.
  • General Budget Information Session at Springfield High School Auditorium, Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m.
  • Town Meeting Information Night at Springfield High School Cafeteria, March 2 at 7:30 p.m.
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