School begins for Groton youngsters

Melissa Gill, left, snaps a photo of her daughter Ashlynn, 3, with Ava Dominguez, also 3, as pre-K teacher Sue Chmielewski, back right, greets her students Tuesday on their first day of school at Mary Morrisson Elementary in Groton. Tuesday was the first day for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students in the Groton district.
Melissa Gill, left, snaps a photo of her daughter Ashlynn, 3, with Ava Dominguez, also 3, as pre-K teacher Sue Chmielewski, back right, greets her students Tuesday on their first day of school at Mary Morrisson Elementary in Groton. Tuesday was the first day for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students in the Groton district. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Groton - About 535 students started kindergarten and pre-kindergarten in Groton Tuesday, and schools reported class sizes in kindergarten ranging from 18 to 22 students.

Superintendent Michael Graner said he wants class size in the primary grades - or pre-kindergarten through Grade 2 - to remain in the high teens. He placed paraprofessionals in some classrooms to help, he said. But Graner said the district wasn't prepared yet to hire more teachers because school populations could change significantly.

A representative of the U.S. Navy explained that families with a parent in the military could receive orders to relocate starting in early October and continuing through the rest of that month, Graner said.

"So we're anticipating fairly significant comings and goings right clear through October," he said. Some moves could happen quickly, he added. "In some cases, the lead time for the order is down significantly," Graner said. "It used to be a several-month period. Now it's down to a month or less."

School started on Aug. 28 for about 4,100 Groton students in grades 1 through 12, but so far, the focus has been on watching elementary class sizes, which vary by school and grade.

Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School, Pleasant Valley Elementary School and Mary Morrisson Elementary School reported kindergarten class sizes of 18 students, for example. By comparison, Charles Barnum Elementary School and Claude Chester Elementary School had kindergarten classes of 22 students each.

Graner said he was watching about eight primary grade classes where class sizes had edged up, including a fifth-grade class of 24 students and a second-grade class of 23 students at Northeast Academy.

Mary Morrisson also had a second-grade class of 23 children, and S.B. Butler reported a first-grade class of 23 students, he said.

Meanwhile, kindergarten teachers and students took in their first day. At Pleasant Valley Elementary, teacher Colleen Laurie explained how to eat lunch in the big cafeteria and then line up afterward.

"So many already know how to do this because of Groton's pre-K program," she said. "It makes it a lot easier."

"It's just a different feeling of calm," teacher Jess Legnos said. Last year, she started the school year with 24 children, she said. This year, she has 18.

No one cried during the morning drop-off, except the mothers, Legnos said.

Laurie said at least one moment that morning stood out for her. For seemingly no reason at all, Dominick Snyder, 5, walked up to her and said he loved her and thought she was beautiful.

"It doesn't get any better than that," she said.

d.straszheim@theday.com
Twitter: @DStraszheim

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