For the second year in a row, Waterford had to hire another kindergarten teacher just days before school started because dozens of parents took their children out of for kindergarten and into Waterford's public schools.
The reason, according to Friendship School Director Kathy Surpin and Superintendent Jerome Belair, who have talked to all the parents, is not because The Friendship School is considered a worse school or there is any problems with the curriculum. Instead, mostly it comes down to dollars and cents, Belair said.
“I have not heard my child is not being challenged, I don’t like the program,” he said. “It's all been an economic piece.”
The Friendship School has a half-day on Wednesday, which means parents have to pay for more daycare on that day, Belair and Suprin said. According to the Friendship School’s website, there is a daycare program at the school for just Wednesdays that costs $25 a week.
The other big reason students leave the last year at the Friendship School is because they have an older sibling who goes to one of Waterford’s schools, and parents want their children to be together and for them to leave school and come back from school at the same time, according to Belair and Suprin. Still, Belair pointed out parents basically get two free years of preschool at The Friendship School, and their child took a spot that could of went to somebody else.
“When they back out of that, they’ve taken a space for somebody who could have committed for the three years,” Belair said. “So both Kathy Suprin and I have told parents this is about equity and fairness.”
The Friendship School is a magnet school built in 2005 and is composed of 520 three, four and five year olds from New London and Waterford, according to the school’s website. To get into the school, parents sign up their children for a lottery, and their children are selected at random, according to the website.
To go to The Friendship School, parents sign an agreement pledging that their child will stay at the school for all three years. During the first two years, it essentially serves as a free pre-school program for the families, Belair said.
The third year serves as kindergarten, and when the school was built in 2005, Waterford only had half-day kindergarten, Suprin said. However, when every new Waterford elementary school opened up (the new Quaker Hill Elementary opened in 2008, the new Oswegatchie Elementary opened in 2009 and the new Great Neck Elementary opened in 2010), Waterford began offering full-day kindergarten.
Once full-day kindergarten was offered at Waterford, more parents wanted to break their commitment from The Friendship School, largely to save money on daycare on Wednesdays or to put both of their children on the same schedule, Suprin said. Waterford would always reject these requests, stating they made a commitment to The Friendship School, Belair said.
Then one parent called the Connecticut Department of Education, which told Waterford that the commitment was not binding and if parents wanted, they could break their commitment to The Friendship School and go to Waterford schools, Belair said. That one person told others, and a trend formed, he said.
Last year, 47 Waterford parents took their children out of The Friendship School’s kindergarten program, forcing Waterford to hire another kindergarten teacher a week before school started, Belair said. This year, 35 parents did the same thing, again forcing Waterford to hire a kindergarten teacher two weeks before school started, Belair said.
Suprin and Belair said they are looking to change The Friendship School’s hours, so it will have a full day on Wednesdays. Also, The Friendship School runs from 9:30 to 3:45, while Waterford schools begin at 8:30 and get out earlier, so Belair and Suprin said they are looking to find a way to have them all start and end at the same time.
“Our hope is to address that issue so it doesn’t become an issue anymore,” Belair said.