Meeting with the Board of Education Tuesday night, Superintendent Pam Aubin introduced the group that has been researching the possibility of changing Montville's kindergarten programs from half-day to full-day.
Aubin said the full-day kindergarten team has made “an outstanding effort” in doing its work.
The committee started in October. It involved a number of subcommittees, touching on finances; special education issues and impact; and research, curriculum and site issues.
The goal of the group was to study the feasibility of the program, Aubin said. Do we have the space? Do we have the staff? How costly will it be?
Members of the group presented their findings.
Laurie Pallin tells the group about the process of researching full-day kindergarten. The benefits, she says, are quite compelling.
"Our program needs more time," she says. "Our program has become too academic to be developmentally appropriate."
The program, she says, has lost the opportunity for the kids to explore creativity. Teachers say it is too stressful to put a whole day's worth of learning into a half-day of kindergarten.
"We're doing a lot, and we're doing a great job," she says, but the schools need a balance between academics and creative play. That's something that schools with full-day kindergarten can do that Montville can not, she says.
Full-day kindergarten provides 900 hours of school work in a 180-day year. The current program provides 450 hours.
Programs with full-day K
Sprague has a full-day kindergarten, and the group investigated it. Teachers there are able to stretch lessons out if pupils aren't grasping the concepts, says Robin Tamburrino, and the kindergarten teacher the group met there said that was a very strong point of the program.
There are more opportunities to meet other needs, as well, she says. Children need to paint, play with blocks, dance and move, and a full-day program affords that. Children learn to share, to solve problems, to get along, when they have more time to build those social skills.
One of the reasons that Sprague went to full-day K, she says, is that administrators wanted to "close the achievement gap" for students.
In Windsor Locks, North Main Street School has full-day kindergarten. The teacher there says she can not imagine going back to half-day kindergarten. She can't conceive of fitting a day's teaching into a half a day.
It takes about two to four weeks for the students to adjust to the full-day program. Even in the afternoon, committee members said, the kids were alert and learning.
Use of instructional time
Suzanne LoPresto charted the activities of students on half-day and full-day kindergarten.
"We're going to add 'different'; we're not going to add more pressure," LoPresto says.
- Opening activities, language arts and workshop time would stay the same.
- Language arts - reading aloud, kids' writing - would get a half-hour. Now, it gets almost no time.
- Math would get an additional 15 minutes, and this is an area of improvement that is much needed, LoPresto says.
- Lunch and recess would take 55 minutes; now, there is no lunch or no recess.
- Social development - appropriate playing, dance, movement activities, would get a half-hour. Now, there is no time for this. LoPresto says these activities are very important.
Special education and ELL
Donna Maynard discussed some of the benefits and concerns surrounding special education students and English-language learners.
- There would be more opportunities for social language and social skills development, she says. Research has found that full-day students tend to be less withdrawn and show less anger and shyness, she says.
- Full-day students have better attendance, and are more focused on school as a priority. Those better attendance rates carry through their primary years, she says.
- Children in full-day K are more likely to ask an adult for help, if they're having trouble learning, she says.
- Double instruction daily would help English Language Learners, as well.
The students are immersed in an English language program, Aubin says, and while this might be stressful at first, the length of the day and the connection with English helps the English Language Learners grasp the language more quickly.
Staffing and costs
Assistant Superintendent Brian Levesque says that schools would need to have nine kindergarten teachers, twice as many as the schools currently have.
Shifting resources would make full-day kindergarten possible - without asking the town to add any teachers. The change would keep class sizes small in elementary schools, but could loosen some of the upper grades.
While this year's first-grade class - last year's kindergarten class - is quite large, this year's kindergarten class is back to averag size - 137 kids. Next year's birth rate rises slightly, according to projections. "If we add full-day kindergarten," Levesque says, "we will have sustainability."
Because of this year's abnormally large first grade, Levesque says, a first-grade position can be eliminated at each elementary school next year.
Why not cut the those positions entirely? Cutting them would involve paying unemployment and COBRA, to the tune of about $120,000, Levesque says. "We can use what we have in a better way," he says.
He adds that there's an extra bus run with half-day K. The schools would save a minimum of $32,000 by cutting that one run.
Installing a door to provide a sound barrier in the Mohegan Elementary would cost $1,306.
Supplies would cost $10,000 more, on a one-time basis.
"We're going to do it with the money that we have and the resources that we have," Levesque says.
The schools have the space, he says.
Special area staffing
Art, music, physical education and library media special classes could be accommodated with the current staffing levels. There is no need for more food-service staff, either, Aubin says.
Two hundred fifteen people took a survey on the issue. Some were worried about stress, Aubin says.
"I think that children will be less stressed," she says. "This is not about providing day care. We would not propose this to the board for that purpose."
- 87 percent support the idea
- 8.8 percent do not
- 4.2 percent were undecided
- 191 had at least one child who had attended Montville kindergarten
- Of those, 80 percent would have supported full-day kindergarten
"The results of the study," Aubin says, "presented compelling evidence" for a full-day program.
"We believe we can provide quality to our students." Aubin says that our community can benefit from full-day kindergarten. Families - a strong middle class where parents value education - will be attracted to Montville because of full-day kindergarten.
"If the board chooses to endorse this," Aubin says, it must not be a one-year program, but must become a core value.
The board will discuss the issue in its February meeting.