Epsom, alone in its school-district stance, rejects full-day kindergarten, approves keno

  • Graeme Crowther at the entrance of the Epsom Central School during town meeting voting on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Graeme Crowther talks about full-day kindergarten near the entrance of the Epsom Central School during town meeting voting Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Graeme Crowther outside the entrance of the Epsom Central School during town meeting voting on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Graeme Crowther sits in his wheelchair near the entrance of the Epsom Central School on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Jessica Emond, who teaches preschool in the Head Start program in Manchester. She’s been affiliated with Southern New Hampshire Services in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties for 20 years, teaching early education, witnessing its benefits, hoping Epsom would come aboard. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/12/2019 10:24:46 PM

Graeme Crowther, once an executive team leader at Target, lost his mobility after a car crash more than 10 years ago.

His passion for life, however, never left, and in fact, it’s as strong as ever. He’s simply moved that emotional drive in another direction, toward the emergence and importance of kindergarten, full-day, in the overall scope of education.

Now confined to a wheelchair, Crowther reverted back to his first love, teaching, after the crash and began working at Laconia High School. Then he got his master’s degree and started teaching math at Concord High School.

He lives in Epsom and finds himself in the center of the kindergarten debate there, where residents were asked Tuesday if they wanted to spend $175,000 for full-day kindergarten.

“All the research shows that early education is important for future education, and not just in the classroom,” Crowther said in the lobby of Epsom Central School. “Social interaction has decreased. It’s about getting them to work together in a collaborative way.”

Crowther got a split decision at the ballot box Tuesday. Voters in Epsom rejected full-day kindergarten by a vote of 560 to 459, but decided to embrace the gambling game keno the state has chosen to fund its early education.

School funding – and more importantly the value of an education is a hot topic on Election Day and every other day of the year. Voices like Crowther’s and others I met in Epsom are convinced that kindergarten is vital in helping kids reach their full potential.

Most of those people, of course, have children in the game. Crowther does. His daughter is 5 and is currently enrolled in what Epsom offers, which is half-day kindergarten. His son is waiting on deck, a 4-year-old who’s in preschool.

But what about older folks, those who no longer have kids young enough for kindergarten? And what about younger folks, who haven’t even started raising children yet? Why should either of those age groups add to their tax bill, especially residents who live on an already-tight budget?

Those were the battle lines. While no one talked my ear off about their vote against full-day kindergarten, the silent majority agreed with the school board and budget committee, which both recommended rejecting Article 5, which would expand the half-day program currently in place.

Now the money people spend on keno in Epsom will go to another town to pay for kindergarten – $1,100 per student.

While it doesn’t pay the full amount for full-day kindergarten, “it’s money well spent,” Crowther said.

He and a local woman named Carol Zink-Mailoux have been out front leading the charge en route to Election Day, offering informational sessions and PowerPoint presentations to make their case.

Attendance was low, despite the fact that four of the five school districts in SAU 53 – Chichester, Allenstown, Deerfield, Pembroke – all offer full-day kindergarten. Epsom stands alone and remains one of the few school districts in the state with half-day kindergarten.

Armand Claris stood next to Crowther and remembered the day decades ago when his children attended full-day kindergarten in town.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he told me. “You should talk to my daughter. (Kindergarten) did a lot for her. It made her smarter.”

That would be Jessica Emond, who teaches preschool in the Head Start program in Manchester. She’s been affiliated with Southern New Hampshire Services in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties for 20 years, teaching early education, witnessing its benefits, hoping Epsom would come aboard.

“I grew up in this town,” Emond said. “My kids are older, 14 and 9, but the way I look at it, someone helped me go to kindergarten. Now it’s my turn to help.”

Emond said kindergarten combines play-based interaction with disciplined reading time. She said parents who are against kindergarten often criticize both areas of learning, saying that some believe play-based means a free-for-all with no structure, while desk time refers to hours of sitting with no interaction.

Wrong, Emond says. She mentioned a balance between the two.

“Children learn through a play-based curriculum,” Emond said. “It’s harder for kindergarten teachers because they must interact with the children and develop language and reading and writing skills through play-based activities instead of just a worksheet at a desk.”

Over in Allenstown, where there’s already full-day kindergarten, articles on the town warrant took a back seat to those on the school district warrant. Education, it seemed, had people talking more than issues connected to the sewer operating budget or reserve funds for streetlights.

That’s why the people I spoke to favored the proposed school budget of $10.45 million over the default budget of $10.35 million. Every little bit helps.

Donna Ong was fair-minded, seeing both sides, despite the fact that she was on break from her middle school teaching job.

“I know it’s a lot of money, but I think it’s important to go through,” Ong said. “But I understand how the elderly feel. I understand they won’t want their taxes to go up.”

Joyce Berlan sat on a folding chair in the lobby of the Allenstown polling station, at Saint John Baptist Parish Hall, waiting for friends to bring homemade quilts, which were set to be raffled off.

Berlan, a retired case manager, has four children, three stepchildren, 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. That means she has to make a lot of nana’s meatballs when 37 or 38 family members show up each year for Christmas.

All of her own children are older than 50, but that doesn’t mean this senior citizen wants to nudge education into the background. Quite the contrary, she has a communal view on things. The money raised from those quilts was for Meals on Wheels.

“The socialization they get in kindergarten is important,” Berlan said. “The kids today don’t play. They watch TV and play on their tablets. They don’t know how to find friends. We went outside and played with friends.”

And while Berlan’s passion for childhood learning and tapping into potential was strong, no one could possibly view this issue quite like Crowther.

Married for six weeks in the summer of 2008, he had the early shift at Target in Hooksett, the one that began at 5 a.m. He said his back tire slid on sand, turning his car 90 degrees and sending him down an embankment off Route 43 in Deerfield. The car flipped once. Crowther, his neck broken, was left paralyzed from the chest down.

He said the experience had more than a physical effect on him. He said it had a positive, uplifting, eye-opening impact as well. He said he began to see things differently. That’s why he’s on the frontline, fighting for kindergarten.

“It put things in perspective,” Crowther said. “We wanted to start a family and we had just gotten married. I got to refocus my priorities and fell in love with teaching.

“I think it’s important to invest in the future of our community.”




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy