Town Councilors liked what they heard from Watertown School officials, who discussed plans to teach foreign language in the elementary schools, giving all students laptops and other initiatives during the school budget hearing.
The town’s portion of the Fiscal 2017 school budget is $43.57 million, plus the schools will receive $375,000 in money for one-time curriculum initiatives, Town Manager Michael Driscoll said.
The schools will add 34 positions which will add up to the equivalent of 20.25 full-time employees, according to Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald. Among the positions are a district Elementary Math & Science Coordinator, two music teachers, a high school engineering teacher, an hourly garden coordinator, a maker space assistant for the middle school and a journalism instructor at the high school.
After years of cutting positions, and restoring these jobs, Fitzgerald said the district can now look at adding programs.
“I think we are turning the corner from reinstatement to growth, and I think that is great,” Fitzgerald said.
One addition will be the Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES). Three teachers will be hired, who will teach Spanish to elementary students. The program will start in the fall of 2016 when kindergartners at all three elementary schools will get 30 minutes a day of instruction in the foreign language.
“The language of instruction will be Spanish and it is anticipated that students will slowly gain proficiency in listening and speaking, reading and writing will follow,” Fitzgerald said.
Each year, the program will add a grade.
Next school year, all high school students will have a Chromebook computer, so that they will have access to modern technology and not have to spend time picking up and putting away computers each class. Also, the district will no longer have to buy the laptop computer and carts to carry them every five years. Chromebooks cost $350 compared to $1,000 for laptops.
“We plan to have six evening orientation meetings for parents and students,” Fitzgerald said. “We will offer the option of low-cost insurance policies, low-cost protective case options and will explain the benefits of students’ use of modern tools as well as the expectations of how to care for these devices. Students will received the devices in the first two days of school.”
Watertown High School has started instituting Project Lead the Way, a curriculum focused on engineering, but also uses of science, technology and math to solve complex problems. This year, the high school started Introduction to Engineering classes, and next year there will be two more offerings: Principals of Engineering (a foundation course) and Digital Electronic (a specialized course).
“It is our intent to build the program so that we can offer the capstone course Engineering Design and Development,” Fitzgerald said.
The maker space at Watertown High School, the Fab Lab, has been a big hit, and the district will create one at the middle school, too. Students at the high school have used tools such as 3-D printers and vinyl cutters in projects for a variety of classes. A full-time maker space assistant will be hired.
Along with the additions, Fitzgerald said the district is looking at ways to relieve crowding in the town’s elementary schools. She said she and her staff have been working on a plan to move preschool classes to the Phillips School, which frees up space at Hosmer, Lowell and Cunniff schools to reduce class sizes.
Councilors liked what they heard about the additions to the Watertown Schools.
“I am excited to see the elementary foreign language, that you are looking at class size, to hear about the the garden coordinator,” said Councilor Michael Dattoli.
Councilor Aaron Dushku said he had been asking about the journalism instructor, so he was happy to see it in the budget.
The addition of music teachers pleased Councilor Lisa Feltner, who participates in the Friends of Watertown Music group that supports music in the town’s schools.