Preschool program discontinued at Staples
WESTPORT — Students and parents may be upset, but without a family and consumer science-certified teacher, changes must be made to Staples’ child development classes and the preschool housed at the high school.
Students and parents who have been influenced by Linda McClary, the instructor of the child development classes and director of the Play School, expressed frustration and grief when the changes were discussed at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
“I just want to say that if Mrs. McClary’s position as a teacher, at this school, is still up for discussion in any way that it is very important to me to have her still,” said senior Kate Backman, crying as she implored the school board to keep McClary on as a teacher. “I really think it’s important for her to be part of this school because she has really changed my life and has been there for me more than any other teacher has, and I think she makes this community just so much better.”
Child Development I and Child Development II, both semester-long courses, and the Play School, which serves as a preschool and practicum credit for students, will no longer be taught by McClary because she does not possess the required family and consumer science certification. She does possess a health certification and Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said McClary will be retained as a full-time teacher.
On Nov. 30, the state Department of Education informed Palmer, after multiple conversations and after Palmer checked on certification requirements, that “the courses as they’re housed now, could not be taught by this teacher (McClary).” In fact, none of the teachers in Westport possesses the required family and consumer science certification.
Consequently, the Play School will be discontinued and the child development classes will be combined into a joint class with child psychology as part of the Social Studies Department. While the Play School will no longer exist, Staples students will continue to interact with preschoolers and elementary school children at other schools.
When asked how long the child development classes and Play School have been in noncompliance with state regulations, Palmer said, “I can only speak to the situation right now for which I am responsible. I am responsible that every teacher is properly certified.”
Although the Play School program will run through the end of the school year, parents did not find out about the discontinuation of the program until late January and must now find another preschool for their children for the coming year.
“I don’t know that there was a formal communication with the parents because we continued the program. There was no disruption to the eight parents,” Palmer said.
At the Jan. 27 Staples High School PTA coffee with Principal James D’Amico, parents who had heard rumors about the child development classes questioned D’Amico on the subject. He said they were being reconfigured and the Play School eliminated.
Two days later, Palmer sent out a formal email notification, although she first learned about the issue in November.
Jason Wilson, whose preschooler is in the program, said he found out the Play School was being shut down in a parent-teacher conference at the end of January. He said his family moved from Atlanta to Westport for the schools, and they are now scrambling to find a place for his daughter to go to preschool next year.
Amee Borys, a Staples parent and preschool director at Earthplace, said she looks specifically for students of McClary’s child development class when she hires for the Earthplace after-school program because she knows “they can hit the ground running.
“I know that they possess leadership skills and that they work in a collegial fashion,” she said. “They’re team players, they’re well prepared and they understand the needs of the children that we serve.”
“The child development program has been our favorite part of Staples so far, and we don’t want to see it taken away. It is one of the most important programs that makes Staples the special and unique place that it is, and the school would not be the same without it,” Liotta said in an email. “My friends and I will do everything we can to make sure that child development stays the way it is.”
When Palmer’s staff develops the new course proposal combining a child development and a child psychology class, the school board will review it in public session, school board Chairman Michael Gordon said.
“The only thing I think that could have been done better is when the course catalog went out that there would be a specific mention of this course and if it was not continuing, the rationale for it,” he said.
John Horrigan, co-president of the Westport Education Association, said his organization supports the school district’s efforts. “The WEA was involved with this unexpected situation from the beginning, and we support the district following all state Department of Education Regulations.”
Laura Weiss contributed to this story.