New London Schools Consider Shifting Fifth-Graders to Accommodate Preschool Expansion


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NEW LONDON — The district is considering moving a group of fifth-graders to Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School next year to make space in the elementary schools for preschool classrooms. 

Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie told CT Examiner that she planned to send a letter to parents of current fourth-graders to gauge their interest in the plan. She emphasized that the switch would be voluntary. 

Board of Education Chair Elaine Maynard-Adams said on Friday that the need for additional early childhood classrooms was the result of a law passed in the state Legislature that raises the age of children eligible for kindergarten beginning in the 2024-25 school year. 

Maynard-Adams told CT Examiner that the law requires children to have turned 5 years old by the time they enter kindergarten in September, rather than the current requirement that they turn 5 years old by Jan. 1. About 90 4-year-olds in New London who would otherwise have been eligible for kindergarten no longer will be. 

While the change made sense from a child development perspective, she said, the state failed to take into account what would happen to the children who no longer met the age requirement.

“It’s estimated something like 9,000 Connecticut children will be affected by this, and the state put absolutely zero effort into thinking about what do we do for those kids if they can’t go to school and parents either can’t find day care or can’t afford day care? Then that keeps a parent — generally a mother — out of the workforce. It just [has] lots of unintended consequences here because it was not very well thought out,” Maynard-Adams said. 

Ritchie said there was significant extra space at Bennie Dover because the middle school students on the arts pathway were moved to the high school to take advantage of the arts facilities there. If enough families are interested in having their children attend Bennie Dover, she said, they could create a space for fifth- and sixth-graders in their own wing of the building. 

“If there’s no interest, we’re not obviously going to do it, but we have the capability to do it,” she said. 

The school district is currently working with the mayor and the city planner to expand the B.P. Learned Early Childhood Center to increase the number and diversity of classrooms for children. Ritchie said they want to provide a multiplicity of classrooms, including play groups for 3-year-olds, full- and part-time preschool classrooms, and transitional kindergarten for children who aren’t ready to enter a formal kindergarten classroom. 

“We have a real need for transitional kindergarten programs for children,” Maynard-Adams said. “Even though they may be 5 years of age, they’re not ready to be successful in a regular kindergarten program.”

Ritchie said any additional classrooms freed up by transitioning the fifth-graders would further expand the options for families, Since young children develop rapidly and at varying rates, she said, additional spaces would mean the district could place students in the best possible environments. 

“There’s so many changes between 3 and a half and 4 and a half. There’s so many changes between 5 and 7. So there’s all these different developmental levels,” she explained. “If we had three or four different types of settings to pick for our students, that would be ideal, and then we could work with the families and work through developmental screening tools to ensure we’re finding the best possible placement for students to thrive.”

This story has been corrected to reflect 9,000 not 90,000 children

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.