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Concerned parents question literacy issues facing district

A recent media report about issues with the reading curriculum in 'wealthier' communities, such as Winchester, has upset parents, who are demanding the school administration answer questions being raised. COURTESY PHOTO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

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While school officials planned to talk about the coming budget, parents came to voice concerns about literacy raised by a recent media report.

The Winchester School Committee met Jan. 16 over Zoom to discuss the fiscal year 2025 budget only to find many parents using the public comment period to voice worries highlighted by a Boston Globe story reporting Winchester, among other wealthy communities, is using a so-called balanced literacy curriculum deemed low-quality by the state, rather than a phonics-based approach. 

In a balanced approach, children are often taught to guess at words they don’t know, based on pictures and what makes sense relative to the story, rather than learning to sound out words.

Before parents spoke, School Committee Chair Tom Hopcroft reminded everyone that, as a rule, public comment lasts for 20 minutes, and the committee does not respond to the commenters, but simply listens to them. At the end, Hopcroft encouraged anyone who didn’t have a chance to speak or had more to say to email the School Committee at

Parents reacted to a media report about Winchester's literary curriculum during the public comment program on Jan. 16.

Parents have their say

Paras Bhayani, spoke first “on behalf of a number of families who will be entering Winchester Public Schools over the next several years.”

Bhayani, who has a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, wanted to “communicate how concerning and destabilizing the story in the Boston Globe was.”

“That story, and the lack of response that we have heard has the real potential to undermine confidence in the Winchester Public Schools,” Bhayani said. “We need a response from the superintendent and the School Committee, [similar to the response given by other school districts], not simply saying that the School Committee ‘doesn’t decide curriculum.’”

Jillian McDonough said she worries about equity issues across the district. Her kindergartener, who attends Lincoln Elementary School, has benefited from UFLI, a science-based literacy curriculum, but she is “concerned the school doesn’t have enough resources and doesn’t reach the whole district.”

“The School Committee should help bridge the gap between concerns of parents and the next steps that will be taken to address them,” she said.

Cheryl Timko echoed those concerns, saying she is new to the literacy discussion, with a second grader, kindergartener and newborn, and “has an excel spreadsheet of questions” for the School Committee and administration.

She added she is “looking for more transparency” and would like the district to perform a review, “digging into the curriculum that’s applied across the elementary district.”

Nora Cooney, who has a second grader, a kindergartener and a preschooler, said she had been trying for over a year to get answers to general questions about the curriculum from the administration. Those questions became more “pointed” when she had to hire a reading tutor for her son, but she “still received no answers.”

Cooney faulted the district for ignoring the issue.

“Knowing this article was coming out, and still doing nothing to address it, shows a complete lack of leadership,” she said.

In the past, the district has said there is not a literacy problem in Winchester because the town has good MCAS scores, but Cooney said there “should be a full assessment of how many families are hiring private tutors to get an accurate picture of how the district is really doing.”

Stephanie Gordon suggested the town form a “committee made up of parents, teachers and administrators... [and instate] a district wide mandate, a more science-based approach to reading, such as UFLI.”

“Some are doing that,” Gordon pointed out. “Some are doing Lucy Calkins, and how is it all being assessed?”

Jess Roch said she became aware of literacy issues when her oldest, who is now in second grade, was entering kindergarten. She said she chose to send him to a private kindergarten instead.

“What is the defense for having a scientifically disproven literacy program in place?” she asked. “How can we voice concerns when the [original group of parents] has been ignored so far?”

The night’s final speaker, Jennifer Infantino, has been part of a group of parents voicing concerns about Winchester’s literacy curriculum for several years. She said “this is not a new issue, and requests for the School Committee and administration to address this issue go back at least three years.”

She said she gave public comment three years ago when her youngest was in third grade.

“For my family, the ship has sailed, but I’m glad that parents of younger children are aware of this,” she said. “This is something that should be addressed directly with the community.”


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