Board of Ed to Vote on Full-Day Kindergarten April 8

The BoE will discuss and finally vote on full-day kindergarten this upcoming Mon.

Jamie Wheeler-Roberts

The BoE will discuss and finally vote on full-day kindergarten this upcoming Mon.

When the discussion turned to the issue of full-day kindergarten, not even the blizzard conditions outside could have a cooling effect on emotions during the Mar. 18 Board of Education meeting.

The issue was a frequent topic of discussion for the Board in the past, most notably six years ago when the Board voted to switch the kindergarten school week from five “extended” days – which, despite their name, are actually shorter than a full school day – to the current combination of three full days and two extended days. A new proposal is that the two extended days should be replaced with regular full days.

The issue raised controversy among parents and educators, both of whom were vocal at Monday’s meeting. A group of six kindergarten educators appeared before the board to offer their support for the plan, with the consensus among them being that the desire for a full day “isn’t (because) we want to instruct more, but that we want to instruct better,” as one kindergarten teacher put it. The group also noted that the switch would make it easier to adhere to the newly implemented Common Core standards without compromising the amount of time dedicated to “specials” that do not make up the academic kindergarten curriculum.

However, the most vocal support stemmed from the overflow of parents at the meeting, many of whom were sporting stickers with the message “Vote for full day” on their shirts.

“I am in full favor of the full day five day schedule,” said Westport mother LJ Wilkes, who added that in the past her children had attended schools that are full day and were fine. “We as parents and educators need to make sure our children are prepared for the future, and an additional four hours is only going to be able to help our kids.”

Many other parents supported Wilkes belief, with one parent even going so far as to suggest that her son was left unprepared for first grade as a result of less instructional time in kindergarten. Others felt that the argument for full day kindergarten just made the most sense.

“Those that do not support the full-day argument are basing their opinions on emotions, not facts,” said parent Sue Calger.

However, for one Board member, the decision was proving to not be as black–and–white.

“This is perhaps the most difficult (of the three kindergarten votes the Board has faced) for me,” said Board member Mark Mathias. “Last time we did it, the given reason for expanding the day was that it would provide more free time, not more academics, and I don’t think that’s been case.”

Mathias then likened the kindergarten schedule to a bookshelf on which each available empty shelf was inevitably being filled.

In response, Superintendent Elliot Landon countered that he believed the district has been true to their promises made after last vote. In response to another analogy of Mathias’ – in which Mathias compared giving the benefits kindergarteners extra hours to play outside of school to an investment that compounded, Landon offered an analogy of his own.

“It’s comparing if you put your money away in a bank and hope interest will allow it to grow and allow you to be wealthy when you’re 65, or if you put your money in some really good investments where you’re pretty sure you’ll have more money when you’re 65 – the dividends (of full day kindergarten) will be greater upon graduation and later in life,” Landon said.

The views of some parents aligned with Mathias’, with many outright disagreeing with Landon.

“The two extended days and three full days provides an ideal balance of structured time in school and unstructured development at home,” said Anne Boberski, a teary-eyed parent. “(To switch to a five full day schedule) would redefine rigor – think about what that means to a four to six year old.”

But it was parent David Nelson who noted that, regardless of the outcome of the kindergarten issue, there are far worse problems for a district to have.

“We’ve got high class problems here – this is a really good school district,” Nelson stressed.

“(The switch to full-day kindergarten) seems inevitable, like a freight train rolling down the tracks. I’m just sorry about the things we’re going to lose,” Nelson said. “I kind of like the idea of seeing my kids screw around in the yard a couple days a week – it’s just nice.”