WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williamstown Elementary School's enrollment saw a dramatic increase over the summer, but school officials were able to find the money to hire new teachers without cutting programming at the K-through-6 school.
Last week, parents were notified by email that the school was adding a section each in kindergarten and first grade.
"We had 13 new first graders register — all verified residents — since school let out," Superintendent Kimberley Grady said on Thursday night. "We had been watching kindergarten closely. We had been paying attention and paying attention. But first grade was not even on our radar."
As recently as its June meeting, the School Committee was informed that a fourth kindergarten section was a possibility, and, in fact, there was money in the budget approved by town meeting to fund a fourth teacher if necessary.
The addition of a first-grade position came as a surprise when officials looked at the enrollment number earlier this month.
Grady and Principal Joelle Brookner decided not to replace a full-time reading interventionist who had previously applied for and received a classroom teaching assignment at the school. The school's assistant principal, who had a baby in the spring, did not end up working her full summer schedule, foregoing a little of her salary. And the school ended up with more in its coffers for School Choice at the end of fiscal 2017 than it anticipated.
"We were able to piece together a salary without it impacting the kids program-wise," Grady said.
"It's not like we could go back to the town and say, 'Can we have some more money?' Worse comes to worse, we have some additional School Choice money. No student programming was impacted by the change."
The pupil population us up across the board heading into the Sept. 5 start of school, but the difference is most evident in the first grade.
Last year, the school ended the academic year with 442 pupils. As of Friday, that number stood at 458. Last year's kindergarten had 45 students; this year, that number is 55, and the anticipated first grade class is 60 — a 33 percent increase in the cohort.
Although kindergarten is not compulsory in Massachusetts, Brookner said she does not believe the increase in the first grade is attributable to an influx of children who already were living in town but whose families chose to keep them home last year.
"As far as we can track, the increase in first grade is overwhelming due to people newly moving to Williamstown," she wrote in an email. "There is not a pattern to why they have come, meaning they don't seem to all be working for a single employer or anything.
"Three incoming students are through [School] Choice. We had opened spots [in first grade] due to the expected small size of the cohort. There are also two incoming resident first graders that I know of who attended PK and K at an independent school and are coming to WES this year as first graders."
While the reading interventionist position remains unfilled, the school does have a full-time reading specialist and a part-time math interventionist on staff.
"To have two full-time reading people in a building that size is not heard of too often," Grady said.
The school was able to quickly fill the positions for kindergarten and first grade because it already had a pool of applicants available from a previous search, Grady said.
"I feel really comfortable with all the new hires," she said. "They're bringing different backgrounds to the community."
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