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Westwood School Super Torpedoes 10th Kindergarten

Andrea Gerstmayr of Westwood addressing the board with concerns about what happens to kindergarteners when they advance to first grade. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Board President Darlene Mandeville, center, listens to public opinion. To her left, Board Secretary Keith Rosado. To her right, School Superintendent Raymond Gonzalez. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Concerned parents and educators listen to Superintendent Raymond Gonzalez at the Westwood Regional School Board meeting Thursday. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Parents in the Westwood Regional School District who want a 10th kindergarten class walked away from Thursday’s Board of Education meeting disappointed.

Instead, Schools Supt. Raymond Gonzalez recommended that each of the existing nine kindergartens in four schools add an aide.

“We can reallocate $300,000 to accommodate the salaries for this,” he said.

Space is the issue, according to Gonzalez. Not money.

As enrollment now stands for the fall, each of the kindergartens at the Berkeley, Brookside, George, and Washington elementary schools has 23 to 25 students.

The board’s policy follows the state rule calling for an aide in classrooms with more than 25 students.

Above all, Gonzalez and the board expressed concern that adding a kindergarten at Washington Elementary School would force some students who live in the vicinity of Berkeley and Brookside to go across town to school.

“We’re also doing what we can to not impact the instruction across all five grades at all four schools,” Gonzalez said.

Shuffling classrooms or forcing some art or music students “to go to an art cart, to a stage, or some undesirable location” would not be equitable, he added.

“This is a fair way to do it,” said Board Vice President Roberta Hanlon. “This is best in keeping with our policy of equity across the district.”

Board Member Stephen Kalish also concurred, pointing out that using trailers – one of the options considered – comes with other logistical problems.

Not all parents were happy, however.

“I definitely appreciate that they’d give one aide to each classroom, but the aides will not move forward with the children,” said ToniAnn Migliore of Westwood. “They won’t go with the children to first, second, third, fourth grade.

“That’s a big issue because it’s not just about the kindergarten,” she added. “We’re setting the kids up for the future, and this plan doesn’t address that.”

Migliore has emerged as an organizer for the parents, having created a Facebook page and planned a “Class Size Matters” demonstration outside the Westwood Regional Jr./Sr. High School on Ridgewood Road for Thursday evening.

The demonstration was cancelled when the board scheduled Thursday’s special session and heard public comment for one hour at the high school.

Some parents liked the aide plan. Others liked it with reservations. Still others opposed it.

“An aide is a person who can give a snack, who can help a crying child, but an aide is not an educator,” Kristen Greco of Westwood told the board. “I would rather have a tenth classroom. You can make it work with a music and art room combined.”

Like Migliore, a number of parents pointed toward the future.

Andrew Gerstmayr of Westwood said people are retiring and leaving Westwood and young families are moving in.

“This is going to get worse and it’s going to get worse fast,” he said. “What about using trailers in the future?”

According to Gonzalez, the issue is one that extends beyond the kindergarten and into a bigger conversation about long-term space and expansion of school facilities. A public referendum could even be involved.

For the time being, with kindergarten enrollment up and the school year fast approaching, he deemed the aides plan the best course of action.

There is not enough time, he said, to situate trailers, hook up utilities, and rearrange class schedules before September.

The board will not vote on the issue. The plan will be enacted, according to Gonzalez, when the board hires the aides.

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