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Playworks, based in Oakland, Calif., says it runs recess programs in 22 states. (Photo: Playworks)

Playworks, based in Oakland, Calif., says it runs recess programs in 22 states. (Photo: Playworks)

A Cambridge elementary school is outsourcing recess, bringing in experts for a year after a School Committee vote Tuesday approved a recommendation for a $25,000 contract award to be paid partially out of its School Improvement Funds.

Committee member Richard Harding registered his “conflicted feelings” on this use of school improvement money on a non-academic use by voting “present.” (Member Mervan Osborne abstained with a “present/no vote” because of a conflict of interest with the organization, while praising the group.)

Member Patty Nolan sought assurance that the King Open school council supported the decision to hire the group: “So the School council reviewed, approved and requested this program?” Once Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Maryann MacDonald answered yes, and assured that the council vetted and supported bringing in Playworks, of Oakland, Calif., Nolan voted in favor with four other members. The recommendation for the contract specified that Playworks will be paid for with $15,000 from King Open’s school improvement funds and $10,000 from the general fund.

Cause for contract

Playworks at King Open was proposed by Principal Darrell Williams as a way to improve school behavior and cooperation during recess and beyond, and also to teach kids more about the fine art of organizing games, so that kids who generally sit out of group games at recess can join in.

The company will provide a recess program during and after school four days a week, the contract outlined, and includes “modeling and implementation of quality recess experiences” and training students in playground leadership among its services.

In a section of its website about “Why is Playworks even necessary?” the company says:

Our experience is that diminishing opportunities for unsupervised play in our society have left kids with a very thin understanding of how to manage their own play and that it is important to have grown-ups introduce some basic rules to make play work.

With Playworks, the students will now have an adult “playing” with them, and modeling behavior.

School improvement funds

Williams confirmed that $15,000 was coming from school improvement funds.

Reached after the meeting, though, three King Open parents present at the council meetings where discussions of Playworks took place said they saw no voting on the program, which was championed by Williams, although they were aware of site visits to see Playworks in action and much discussion.These parents also said they were unaware that part of the funding was coming from school improvement funds and were under impression it was being paid for by “outside” funds.

Marcio Macedo, co-chairman with Williams of the King Open council, clarified in an email Wednesday that there was council support: “Playworks was a topic of intense debate at School Council meetings last year. Many parents expressed skepticism. The fact that it is only a one-year commitment makes it equivalent to a one-year trial, and many of the parents were more at ease with that. It will be important to monitor it this year so that the school can make a decision for next year.” He also confirmed that the council was aware that a “substantial portion was coming from the SIP funds.”

More funding

King Open is allocated $62,500 in improvement funds in the fiscal year 2015 budget. In addition, according to MacDonald, King Open is getting additional funds because it is designated as Level 3 by the state (reflecting low MCAS scores among some population subgroups):

bullet-gray-small$45,000 in additional district funds to be shared by King Open and Kennedy-Longfellow (Cambridge’s other Level 3 school) for “professional and technical services”;

bullet-gray-smallAt least $20,000 from Title 1 funds (a result of last year’s Level 3 designation) to support before- and after-school programming for low-achieving students;

bullet-gray-small$3,000 from Title 1 funds for professional development;

bullet-gray-smallAnd state-targeted assistance from the district and School Assistance Center.

Not all of the Level 3 funding decisions have been finalized, MacDonald said, while the district awaits the release of state findings on MCAS results.