MANCHESTER – Superintendent John Berenato said the school district is ready for an exciting new school year and that includes some new staff and some changes in scheduling.
Berenato told The Manchester Times, “September 7 is the first day for students and the first day for staff is September 5. The biggest change is at our Middle School where we worked very closely with the Education Association. We developed a schedule that we are calling a modified block schedule.”
He explained, “students will take year-long courses but we have extended the block. There are four core areas of ELA, math, science and social studies. (They) will each be 70 minutes long. (Students) will take gym and health every single day for 40 minutes and then they will rotate through each marking period with an elective.”
“We were able to expand those electives. One of those things we did was we hired the teacher who is certified in theater and certified in music so we are going to be expanding some of the programs for the arts,” Berenato said. This means offering a speech and drama course and some theater opportunities for students and expanded art courses.
He added, “students will be taking Spanish every single year and we are also expanding our STEM and some science courses in addition to offering an honors Spanish for 8th graders and that will take the place of their elective but it would be a full year course and that is the equivalent of taking Spanish I.”
“We added a vice principal to the middle school so the school will operate with a principal and two vice principals in addition to a supervisor of instruction for the curriculum and instructional needs of the students,” the superintendent added.
He noted that these decisions were based on the best practices of schools. Research states that middle school kids are the most vulnerable, since they are going through so much, and they need the added support.
“The goal has always been to make sure that we are properly preparing them for the rigor of the high school and beyond. Parents had expressed some concerns about the middle school in that they wanted more opportunities for their children. They also wanted to make sure what we were doing was sound practice,” Superintendent Berenato added.
He said there will a student and family support counselor who is bilingual and she will actually be finishing up her substance abuse counselor certificate so the middle school will have designated staff to assist those needs.
“We were also able to add an additional ESL (English as Second Language) teacher because our numbers have increased exponentially,” Berenato said.
The superintendent said that 15 brand new teachers to the district took part in the recently held teacher orientation program. Five staff members took on new positions within the district as well.
On the subject of transportation in the school district, Berenato said, “last year we operated on an additional fifth tier that we established. Pre-school had its own bussing tier and one of the things we were able to do was to have the preschoolers to have their start time aligned to the elementary school building and operate a six-hour program.”
Berenato added, “they would leave a little earlier than their K-5 grade counterparts in the building so that would change a little bit. We also hired more drivers and we are continuing to look at hiring more drivers. Our pay for drivers starts at $23.07 an hour, full benefits, pension and paid sick leave.”
“The biggest challenge we have is the number of students we have that go to a non-public school who are entitled to (transportation) aid in lieu and we are trying to do this because we know the community wants this,” he said. “They are electing to do instead of getting the aid in lieu payment.”
He said the hiring of more drivers would help accommodate this. “Then we could start increasing those routes to non-public schools.” He said the number of students going to private schools has greatly increased. In 2020 aid in lieu was about $37,289. In 2021 it was $34,935 and in 2022 it was $91,020.
The last (school) year we paid $318,500 and we are budgeting around $425,000 for this coming school year,” the superintendent added.