Watertown School officials plan to use some of the money from the federal COVID school assistance grant to offer full-day PreK classes to more children in the City.
The Watertown Public Schools will receive more than $2.86 million from the third round of the federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) grant, and Superintendent Dede Galdston told the School Committee she wants to use $370,000 of the funds to start the effort to create universal PreK.
Other uses for the funds include expanding extended day and summer programs, credit recovery summer classes to help prevent dropouts, salaries for two assistant principals, and to create a teachers-in-residence program.
The ESSER funds would be used to move the district toward universal PreK, Galdston said. The money would be used to pay for half the salary of PreK teachers and instructional assistants in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.
“What we will use the funds for is a slow plan over the next two years to wean us off of tuition-based, paying through grant funding and slowly build it into the operating budget,” Galdston said.
Currently, the Watertown Public Schools offers a PreK program with limited spaces. It is tuition based for most students and in the 2022-23 school year it will cost $8,700. The program is an inclusion one, where special needs students are part of the class. Next fall there will be three PreK classes with 18 students in each.
The goal is to eliminate or significantly reduce the tuition, Galdston said, and opens up the option to more families in Watertown.
“It may never be universal but let’s get it to the point where it is highly affordable or free. One or the other,” Galdston said. “Right now it’s the best deal in town, but the best deal in town is not possible for some of our families, so we have got to work through that and make sure it is not a barrier to accessing our education.”
Other Uses for Grant
In the presentation, Galdston also spoke about other uses for the ESSER grant funds.
Access to the extended day and extended year programs will be extended using $400,000 in grant funds. These programs include before- and after-school programs, as well as the summer program, Galdston said.
Half the salaries of the assistant principals at Cunniff Elementary School and Watertown Middle School will be paid with $220,000 from the grant.
The district will use $502,000 to fund six K-8 math tutors, and to make the part-time kindergarten instructional assistants full time (up from a 0.5 position). The IAs will be focusing on early literacy.
The district will fund four teachers-in-residence to help increase the diversity of the staff. Galdston said the hope is that the teachers would remain in the district after completing the program. The $280,000 will also fund two additional ESL teachers for two years.
An additional guidance counselor and a social worker will be added at Lowell Elementary School, and a second district-wide community outreach counselor will be added with $460,000 from the grant.
More Watertown High School students will be able to participate in the summer credit recovery program. The district will use $50,000 from the grant to pay for the licensing of the Edgenuity program and for staffing.
Other items funded by the ESSER III grant:
- $50,000 for ESL Newcomer curriculum and professional development
- $40,000 to pay for services from Wayside Youth & Family Network which provides support mental health and substance counseling for students
- $40,000 to develop and strengthen data used to pinpoint and target students’ academic intervention
- $40,000 to fund and provide transportation for the Acceleration Academies during school year vacations, and to fund summer programs for high school students in danger of failing a class