School Committee Approves Extended Day Rate Increases

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READING, MA — After a presentation by Director of Community Education Chris Nelson, the School Committee voted 6-0 on Thursday to approve a new tuition rate structure for the extended day program in the Reading Public Schools. The new rates will go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year.

Nelson reported that the extended day program has grown to almost 700 students this year, a significant increase over the 470 enrollments last year. There has been an expansion of enrichment programs, with more on the way, but, Nelson explained, there has been no change in rates since 2012, “and that was a decrease.” Nelson added. Nelson continued to share that the advancement of the program would not be sustainable under the current rate structure.

With the new rate structure, after-school care for a student attending the program five days a week will increase to $443 a month. The current rate is $423 a month. Before school, care for a student attending five days a week will cost $134 a month, up from $114 a month. Nelson explained that the increases were proposed after comparing rates to similar programs in other communities.

School Committee member Erin Gaffen approved of the changes, thanking Nelson and his team for “accommodating the larger number of kids” in the program. Member Shawn Brandt commented that the new rates seem to be “very reasonable,” while School Committee chair Thomas Wise added that he appreciated the simplified rate schedule as well. Nelson also noted that future wage increases for program staff were accounted for when the new rate structure was proposed.

Reading Memorial High School [RMHS] guidance counselor Lynna Williams shared a counseling update with the committee with a focus on the future plans of students. She reported that 86.6% of the class of 2023 moved on to a four-year college, with 4.11% of the class going to a two-year college. Just over 2% of the class of 2023 attends a prep of technical school this year, with 6.4% seeking employment or some other activity such as a gap-year program.

“Our goal is that 100% of our students have a plan when they leave [RMHS],” Williams explained.

RMHS SAT scores have dropped slightly since 2019, though Reading’s scores still exceed state averages. Williams noted that other school districts have reported similar trends. She suggested that possible reasons for the drop could be the greater percentage of students who are taking the SAT than in the past, the SAT has changed, and that many colleges are making the test optional, which has reduced student emphasis on the exam.

“The end goal is making sure that our students go to a place they want to be,” Williams shared. “Our students are doing very well in [their college admissions].” The guidance department at RMHS has processed over 1,500 college applications so far this year with over 500 college acceptances to 138 different colleges.

Williams also shared that there has been a significant increase in the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and exams. “More students are taking risks and challenging themselves,” Williams added. RMHS students took 627 Advanced Placement exams in 2023, with 67.1% achieving a three or higher on the exam. 

RMHS principal Jessica Callanan reported that the school will pilot a new schedule from January 22 to February 16. According to Callanan, the hope is that the new schedule will make RMHS student schedules more predictable, give students more course options, and allow for increased time for learning. The starting and ending time for classes will remain consistent, and if applied, the new schedule could lead to over nine additional hours of instruction each year without changing the start time of the school day.

“More time is always something that will help us as educators,” Callanan explained.

This culmination of many years of work will conclude with a survey for students and staff seeking to understand how the changes worked. After responding to a question posed by Brandt about other options that could be tried if the pilot does not work, Callanan added, “I am hoping that whatever schedule we go to, kids will have more choices.” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milaschewski clarified, “I can assure you, this is a pilot. I am anxious to see how it works.”

Before entering into executive session, the committee briefly discussed the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget. Wise stated that he was pleased with the areas where investments have been made and that past investments have been made sustainable. “I think we hit on our key items with this budget,” Wise declared, noting that obligations will be met, Esser grant positions have been retained, and that universal full-day kindergarten will be one year closer to being achieved.

I am happy with where we are investing,” Wise concluded.

The School Committee adjourned to executive session at 8:35 pm.

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