Should the town of Southington implement full-day kindergarten for the 2013-14 school year and beyond?
It’s a question that the Board of Education will ponder over the next two months and members of the board seem split on whether it’s the right move at this time.
The Southington Board of Education on Thursday heard the formal plan for the first time, learning about a program that would bring full-day kindergarten to the entire district at an anticipated cost of $396,411 in the first year, but members were more concerned in making sure the program will be able to show positive results in a very short time to justify the cost.
Board Chairman Brian Goralski and board member Zaya Oshana each questioned how the program’s success would be measured, saying there should be “clear-cut and positive results” in the first year.
“If there’s any reason, I want to know why I should not have heightened expectation of student performance when they reach (first-grade),” Goralski said. “I want to see academic gain in year one. That’s a full year of added socialization, curriculum and engagement.”
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The program, as presented by school administrators on Thursday, calls for every class to become full-day in an effort to provide more time for socialization, interaction and play along with attempting to eliminate the need to “rush” through current day curriculum.
Karen Smith, assistant superintendent for Southington schools, said each classroom would use the current 2.5-hour model, extending it to six hours, and expand existing curriculum to implement more literacy, math and social studies learning.
While there would be no half-day options, Smith said the district recognizes some students may not be ready for all-day schooling and said individual students and their parents could work with teachers and school administrators to develop an individual education plan, or IEP, to promote success.
Smith said a full-day class would also allow children to have more time to play while also alleviating the pressure currently placed on teachers.
“There isn’t the time in our kindergarten program now for educators to individualize the day the way they might want to,” Smith said. “The stress and pressure to achieve the goals now, in a half day, is extensive. What we are working with now are those full-day expectations in half the time.”
The program will require the district to hire additional staff and outfit nine existing classrooms to handle the new school populations, one that would be required for students who attend parochial schools because Southington does not currently offer a full-day option, but Director of Business and Finance Sherri-Lin DiNello said this could be done at minimal cost.
By shuffling staff members and using existing equipment and space, she said it would cost $396,411 in the first year - $143,545 of which would be a one-time expenditure. By comparison, starting new without any existing resources would have cost the town $1.08 million.
“It represents a budget impact of just 0.48 percent, less than half of one percent of the entire operating budget,” DiNello said.
Are you in favor of the all-day kindergarten proposal? Is it something you want to see rejected by the board of education? Be sure to look back and see how the community responded Wednesday night and vote in our poll.
But the question remains – will the program have a positive long-term affect on test scores or help improve the district’s literacy results?
A total of 73 districts in Connecticut already have the program in place, as do seven charter schools and 11 magnet schools. In the region, there are 14 similar-sized districts that currently have all-day kindergarten while nine are operating with half-day programs.
Farmington Patch reported that the Farmington Board of Education this week declined to move forward with plans for all-day kindergarten.
Space and money were concerns, the article stated, but the biggest reason the district declined to move forward was a fear that with no empirical evidence to prove positive net gains in Common Core State Standard, the cost outweighed the benefit:
“Students who do not meet standards are offered interventions and we do offer the EXCL option to extend the day,” (Farmington School Superintendent Kathleen) Greider said.
The district instead will monitor success in Simsbury, which recently implemented full-day kindergarten, and revisit the issue in a year or longer.
Goralski said it’s important to see returns from the program and hopes that school administrators will be able to monitor success. He questioned whether the newly implemented “extended kindergarten” currently offered to at-risk students has shown positive results.
“There are definite measures showing that those involved in the program are considerably less at-risk than when they entered,” School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. said.
While there has been opposition to the idea, including from several who attended the community discussion at Derynoski Elementary School on Wednesday who questioned the merits of a program with no evidence of success, there has also been a lot of support in the community.
The vast majority of elementary school principals and kindergarten teachers were in attendance Thursday night to show their support.
Board member Colleen Clark, who works as a pre-school instructor, said that you can’t put numbers on the added advantages students will receive in spending more time learning disciplinary skills and interpersonal skills such as taking part in circle-based activities, learning to cut a straight line and just doing the basics necessary to become a good student and learner at an earlier age.
“I struggle getting those children to be able to do the basics,” Clark said. “I can’t imagine how teachers now are able to differentiate for each child. No tests exist to measure these skills because these little people are, well, little people. You just can’t measure that.”
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