WESTFIELD – The School Committee took no action April 5 on a decision to close Fort Meadow Early Childhood Center.
There have been several meetings recently with lengthy discussions on the district’s plan to close Fort Meadow and move preschool into four elementary schools.
On Monday, Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski thanked everybody, including parents, who have been involved in the ongoing discussion. “The first thing I’ll start with is I also agree that we need a year to deal with this,” he said, adding that he first brought it up due to the deteriorating condition of the building.
Czaporowski said he met with the staff at Fort Meadow last week, who asked for time. He said more work needs to be done on the plans, and the district will involve the Fort Meadow staff, who they consider to be the experts in the field, in any move.
Czaporowski said the larger vision is to expand access to preschool in the future. “For me, one of the things I would love to see in Westfield is a full-day program. When the five elementary schools are online, we will be able to expand access to preschool. I want to focus on expanding access, and would like to go to universal preschool where we’re not charging,” he said.
“We’re seeing a lot of children coming to kindergarten with no skills whatsoever. Expanding access, and making it universal, we can put interventions in as early as possible. Going from 200 to 300 [students] is substantial. With the amount of tuition we collect now, if doing away with it has the advantage of having more kids attend, it’s worth it,” he added.
“I want to reiterate; I support doing something next year, involving staff at Fort Meadow, and giving us more time. I think we can really do what’s in the best interest of our kids and using our staff to help make this transition,” Czaporowski said.
“I’m glad you decided to put it off for a year. As I said at the beginning, I don’t think we should make a decision during a pandemic,” said School Committee member Cindy Sullivan, adding that she feels for the parents in the community, although she also knows that if there were a transition the elementary schools would welcome the preschoolers “with open arms.”
“I’m worried about the pandemic, a fourth surge, and I don’t know what September is going to be like. I hate kicking the can down the road. We need to do something,” Sullivan added.
Committee member Ramon Diaz Jr. spoke again about how much he and his family benefitted from Fort Meadow when his son attended. “In my opinion from a parent, I was able to get a lot of stuff for him directly, and as parents because there were so many of us, we were able to improve his life at home – how the children benefitted and parents benefitted. I find it hard to close it down. I’m not opposed to moving the children, but would love to find a way to keep this community together,” he said.
“If we wait a year, we could talk about it later. But it would be good to know what direction we’re going in so we can form a transition team. If that’s what we’re going to do, we need a decision, and we could start the transition team this summer,” Czaporowski said, adding that he would like to see a vote before the end of the school year.