School board members are not quite ready to sign off on full-day kindergarten in District 13.
While Superintendent Susan Viccaro said adding full-day kindergarten this fall would be "cost neutral," some board members at Wednesday night's Board of Education meeting questioned whether they had been given enough information to support a proposal they believe will have long-term implications on the district.
Board member Merrill Adams, who serves as chair of the Curriculum and Achievement Committee, presented the board with what she described as the "pros and cons" of doubling the amount of classroom time for the district's youngest students.
"One of the things that is foremost in that list of pros, the curriculum, that there is more time for the required Common Core curriculum," Adams said in referring to the new statewide standards that schools are required to implement by the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
Under the new standards, Adams said kindergarten students would be expected to be able to read with "good comprehension" by the time they enter first grade.
"What [the elementary principals] say happens to the kids now is they get into kindergarten and they rush breathlessly through the morning or afternoon, don't usually even have time for recess and then get back on the bus and go home."
If full-day kindergarten were offered, Adams said, the school day would increase from 170 minutes to 390 minutes.
"You can see what a difference that would make."
Brewster Elementary School principal Nancy Heckler said kindergarten students in the district currently spend less time in the classroom than pre-school students.
As a result, she said, first and second grade teachers are often tasked with getting the students up to speed on the curriculum.
"Not only do we need some of the time academically ... right now math is taught 20 minutes a day because that's all the time we have ... We need to teach kids to get along as kids, how to share. We don't have time for that any more," Heckler said.
An overwhelming majority of incoming kindergarten parents polled recently supported full-day kindergarten, according to Heckler.
Viccaro, who herself has openly supported the move to full-day kindergarten and had proposed including it in the budget she will present on March 6, told the board the district was in good shape to handle the change.
"For the first time in a lot of ways I think the stars aligned because I wouldn't even be entertaining this if I couldn't make this cost neutral," she said. "This will mean that there will be some positions that will look different and there will be some positions that we currently have a teacher in where they might be retiring but we won't be replacing them.
"We have the space," she said.
But several board members said they were not ready to endorse the change.
"For me, it's really not a question of if, it's a question of when and how," said board member Robert Fulton.
"I think this is a big enough decision that we owe it to all of our townspeople to have a separate presentation as part of our budget. We have to have that dialogue with the public."
Board member Kerrie Flanagan echoed Fulton's comments and said she had not been provided any of the specific details of the proposal and cautioned the board to consider the long term costs.
"What concerns me is I think that we are making a mistake, and in fact trivializing this, if we think about it in terms of next year's budget," Flanagan said. "It's a much bigger deal than that and I think we, as a board, should be looking at how do we implement a program for the future."
Saying he did not want to be rushed into making a decision, board member Jeremy Renninghoff agreed that the board needed more information before moving forward.
"We serve 2000 students and their families, as well as all the people like myself included that don't have kids, not just the parents with kindergarten students," he said.
Viccaro pointed out that 70 percent of school districts in the state currently offer full-day kindergarten and added that at least five districts planned to start offering it in the fall.
Adams, who had earlier joked that she was a dinosaur because she did not initially support the idea, said she now believed the district should offer full-day kindergarten.
"The fact is, they're going to push us right into it whether we want to do it or not. We may as well do it well," she said.