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The King Open School, which includes the Olá Bilingual Program, has been called a "Level 3" or underperforming school based on MCAS scores.

The King Open School, which includes the Olá Bilingual Program, has been called a “Level 3” or underperforming school based on MCAS scores.

There were gasps from audience members Tuesday when parents of children already in the Olá Bilingual Program told the School Committee that their younger children failed to get a seat in its kindergarten lottery, even with sibling preference.

In fact, some are behind families with no sibling preference on the Olá waiting list. Four children with sibling preference were shut out from the two-way Portuguese-English immersion program.

For parents, it can mean dramatically complicating life, as they must arrange daily transportation for kids to schools in different parts of the city and manage participating in events and engaging in issues at two schools – sometimes on the same day or night.

The problem is this: With the blended-grades classrooms used by King Open and Olá (slated to be phased out in the next few years), there are only 10 kindergarten spots for Olá in any given year; another 10 in the classroom are for pre-K children. With the separation of pre-K and kindergarten lotteries this year, all of this year’s current pre-Ks are rolled into next year’s kindergarten, no new children get a seat in kindergarten and 10 new children get assigned to next year’s pre-K, effectively shutting out kindergarten applicants who were not eligible for pre-K last year.

This year, despite the fact there ultimately were no available kindergarten seats for Olá in September, families were not only allowed but encouraged by Family Resource Center staff to unwittingly put Olá as their first choice, parents said.

Families suggested two possible solutions: Either see this as an opportunity to expand the Olá program, which has a healthy and growing demand, to two JK/kindergarten classrooms, or create a co-teaching structure with the mono-language King Open kindergarten classrooms as school officials plan to divide the kindergarten and pre-K classrooms.

Boosting “Level 3” schools

Committee member Richard Harding asked about the $25,000 planned support to improve King Open and and its fellow “Level 3” school, Kennedy-Longfellow. (Level 3 schools are deemed underperforming based on MCAS scores.) The immediate strategy for King Open seems to be turning blended-grade classrooms into separate-grade classrooms. But he couldn’t see how that level of money is “going to do the trick” and noted that the city spends a lot more than that every year on lots of less critical programs.

Assistant superintendents Jessica Huizenga and Maryann MacDonald said that the $25,000 price tag is misleading because there are other funds going into those schools, including state money, and lots of professional development intervention, although they mostly cited work at Kennedy-Longfellow. “We are both in that school much of our time,” MacDonald said of herself and Huizenga.

Huizenga said they are providing substantial training and support for literacy instruction and implementing and understanding assessments. The administration is also putting a lot of hope into the rollout of a new K-5 curriculum in a couple of years to boost performance, especially third-grade literacy scores.

But even here was some tension between changing programs at the school and professional development for teachers versus direct help to students. The proposed budget for K-5 includes funding for new staff to meeting growing kindergarten enrollment and legal requirements for English-language learners, curriculum changes, professional development and out-of-school programs, but no additional interventionists.

Committee member Patty Nolan was alone in mentioning the possibility of using intensive tutoring to help boost literacy in early years, and there was no response from school administration staff.

Kennedy-Longfellow parent and school council co-chairman Doug Tuttle pleaded to the committee to reverse a plan for the students of two second-grade classrooms to merge the next year into a single third-grade classroom. He bemoaned the impact on students who have been shown to need more intervention and the likely result, the loss of a “quality teacher with special-education training.”