Barrington School Committee calls for preschool plan

Primrose Hill School officials want a four-classroom modular

By Josh Bickford
Posted 5/26/23

The plan for Barrington’s preschool program will be unveiled on June 8.

After a lengthy and sometimes contentious discussion on May 18, members of the Barrington School Committee voted …

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Barrington School Committee calls for preschool plan

Primrose Hill School officials want a four-classroom modular


The plan for Barrington’s preschool program will be unveiled on June 8.

After a lengthy and sometimes contentious discussion on May 18, members of the Barrington School Committee voted unanimously to direct the school department administrators to present a “comprehensive” and “executable” plan for next year’s preschool program.

School Committee members called for the plan after over-crowding issues surfaced at Primrose Hill School, which is home to the preschool program. 

Some parents and teachers at Primrose Hill School students said an expanding preschool program was to blame for the overcrowding. They said district officials had increased the size of the program and changed it from half-day to full-day. Classroom space was at a premium — some classes such as art and music were moved onto carts to open up space for other classes, they said.

Some people at Primrose Hill School said the preschool program had been unfairly targeted. They said an additional third grade class was added just before the start of the current school year, stretching resources at Primrose even further. 

District administrators brought in a two-classroom modular unit about mid-way through the school year. A third grade class and an art teacher relocated into the modular unit. School leaders said the two-classroom modular unit has helped, but more space is needed. 

Meanwhile, some teachers believe the issue has created a rift within the school community. 

Barrington School Committee Chairman Patrick McCrann called for the May 18 meeting after officials heard from people on both sides of the debate at previous meetings.

McCrann said it was clear that the information Committee members are receiving is evolving. He also spoke about a recent tour of Primrose Hill School offered to School Committee members. McCrann said there were concerns about some students being displaced at Primrose Hill School and additional worries that the district was violating certain requirements because it was not offering the same educational experience to Primrose Hill School students as it was at Nayatt and Sowams.

Committee member TJ Peck recalled touring Primrose Hill School and said walking into the cafeteria/gymnasium was depressing. He said the lack of planning and leadership by the district had created a conflict. 

Peck asked who made the decision to move the preschool program from half-day to full-day. Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore said a lot of work was done to research preschool curriculums, and educators had eventually identified one that offered full-day PreK. Messore later said the decision to go to full-day was, ultimately, his.

Peck asked if Messore had considered the impact on the other students at Primrose Hill School before he decided to expand the preschool to full-day.

Messore said he had. 

Peck also asked Messore if any other School Committee members had directed him to make the change to full-day. 

Messore said no Committee member had directed him.

School Committee member Frazier Bell asked Messore what his plan was to alleviate the overcrowding at Primrose Hill School. Bell asked if the district was bringing in another modular classroom unit. He asked if administrators were going to move some preschool students to other elementary schools in the district?

Messore said the preschool plan will ensure that Primrose Hill School students have the same experiences as Nayatt and Sowams students. 

Bell asked about the district’s preschool plan two years out, five years out, 10 years out.

Messore said part of the plan will hinge on the current building facilities work — officials are planning improvements to the district’s schools although specifics have not been finalized. 

Messore also said planning for preschool was difficult because it is hard to accurately predict future student enrollment. 

School Committee member Dr. Megan Douglas interrupted the line of questioning to say that she was uncomfortable with the tone being used by other Committee members. She said it was making her feel ill. Douglas said the district acts as a team and she did not agree with finger-pointing. 

McCrann agreed that they were a team, but said the Primrose Hill School situation needed to be addressed. He also said it was important to remember that there were multiple ways the district could fulfill the preschool needs — he said the state department of education supports a model where a district educates one-third of the community’s preschoolers, another third attend private preschools, and the other third are at home during their preschool years. 

All the Committee members said they supported having a preschool program but did not want the implementation of the program to have a detrimental impact on other students. 

McCrann and Peck attempted a series of motions regarding the preschool program — limit the program to only two classrooms; prohibit any other students from being displace due to the program — but they eventually held off on voting until Primrose Hill School Principal Coleen Smith and the district’s Director of Pupil Personnel Kristen Matthes shared a brief presentation. 

Four options

Matthes said school officials had a goal to add two to four classroom spaces at Primrose Hill School. She said they identified four possible scenarios to address the space issues, and settled on their top pick: Bring in a four-classroom modular unit. 

The other scenarios, she said, had various drawbacks. Smith also explained that while the district may not have a policy for preschool, there were mandates governing it. 

Messore said getting a four-classroom modular would be a best case scenario, but cautioned that those units are hard to find. Purchasing a two-classroom unit was more likely. 

Smith later said her budget request from earlier this spring included a modular unit, but School Committee members said that request never made it to them. Peck asked if money for another unit was in the proposed budget, and Messore said it was included but not specifically listed. Peck asked how School Committee members would know about it if there was no line item.

McCrann said it was crucial for the district to follow through on addressing the Primrose Hill School situation. 

A short time later, School Committee members made a motion to request the district to create a plan for the preschool program. That motion passed, 4-0. Amanda Basse was not at the meeting. 

Peck then said that the plan would need to be written out and available to the public. 

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