Marion board considers benefits of all-day kindergarten

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CAROLYN MOORE
Full-day kindergarten was the major topic of discussion at the Jan. 10 meeting of Marion-Florence USD 408 school board.

Superintendent Lee Leiker told the board his research indicates that students participating in full-day kindergarten “consistently progress further academically during the kindergarten year than half-day students.”

Class time in a half-day program totals 550 hours per school year; full-day class time would exceed 1,200 hours per year, he said.

According to Leiker, full-day kindergarten would benefit students in several ways:

— Stability in reading status from first to fifth grade is predictable in kindergarten performance.

Leiker said studies indicate additional time for cognitive activities was a significant factor in preparing students for reading. Reading problems identified in third grade and beyond require considerable intervention.

Children don’t outgrow reading problems, he said. Statistics show that 88 percent of students who were poor readers in first grade were poor readers in fourth grade, and 87 percent of students who were good readers in first grade were good readers in firth grade.

The trend continues into ninth grade, he said.

— Reduction in ratio of transition time to class time and greater continuity of day-to-day activities.

— Balance of small-group, large-group and individual activities.

— Children and teachers are less hurried and stressed.

— More time in school day allows for more flexibility in scheduling

— More instructional time available.

— More time for reinforcement of concepts taught earlier in the day.

— More time available for helping students complete challenging tasks.

— More time for social-skill development (friendship, conflict resolution).

— Fewer students identified with IEP special needs in elementary school.

Leiker showed a sample daily schedule for the current kindergarten classes. During the two hours and 50 minutes, students have opening activities, teaching time, hands-on learning centers, snack time, library, physical education and music.

Kindergarten teachers Katie Rahe and Lana Fahey distributed handouts and described what is covered during the kindergarten year.

“As we try to meet kids at their level, at some point we have to go on to another objective and leave behind some kids who haven’t mastered it yet,” Rahe said. “If we pull them to work further on one objective, they miss what the other kids are moving on to. With all-day, everybody would get their due time.”

Fahey added, “All our activities are structured: that’s the only way we can fit it in and make sure the objectives are taught. However, kindergartners are kinesthetic learners and they would benefit from additional free time such as recess.”

Board member Chris Sprowls asked about coordinating efforts with local preschools and child-care providers.

Marion Elementary School Principal Stan Ploutz answered that Head Start meets with private preschools to coordinate efforts and needs; Head Start meets also with kindergarten teachers once a year.

“We don’t go directly to the preschools,” Ploutz said. “Head Start kids spend more time per day than kindergarteners do.”

Fahey reminded the board of a statistic Sprowls had given at the last meeting: Every $1 spent on all-day kindergarten saves $7 in later years (for remediation).

Sprowls said, “It’s an investment.”

Transitional first-grade (T-1) teacher Judy Stewart said, “If you don’t reach them at this age, you’ll never get them. You just can’t leave them hanging out there; the T-1 class goal was to give more time to those who couldn’t get it in the regular day.”

Asked by Board President Rex Savage how her T-1 kids have responded this year, Stewart said, “Their skills are so low, they would have already given up (in a regular first grade class); I hope that by the end of the year they will go into first grade with an ‘I can do’ attitude.

“I had one kid already who said ‘I can’t do that’ every time I said the word ‘read.’ His total built-in reaction was ‘I can’t do that.’ Now that same child is reading. It’s low, but he is reading. I have six kids, and six kids are reading.”

Leiker agreed, saying, “Schools are asked to do more and more, and that’s why it’s difficult to get everything accomplished in half a day.”

Board member Roger Hannaford asked, “Do you think kids are coming to school with fewer skills?”

“I think the gap is getting bigger,” Fahey replied. “It gets bigger each year. Then you have fourth graders who have given up. Kids are dealing with so many other issues this year that it’s just survival. Their families are in crisis. It’s not necessarily that the parents don’t care, but the cycle is hard to break.”

Stewart added, “They have to wonder if they’re going to eat, or is anyone going to be home when they get there. They are absolutely surviving.”

Ploutz said, “(Stewart) has done a good job of fostering confidence and providing foundation skills.”

He said continuing the T-1 class another year depends on enrollment and the number of kindergarten classes needed, if the district adopts full-day kindergarten.

Savage asked what options would be pursued if the state doesn’t provide additional funding.

Fahey replied, “I would guess there will always be high-end and low-end; Judy has taken the transitional kids, and now there are new lows; first-grade teachers still have a multitude of challenges.

“I think with all-day kindergarten we’d get more bang for our buck; all kids would benefit, not just the lowest. If T-1 had not been around, we would have retained those kids if the parents would have let us, which is another issue.”

Stewart said, “All-day kindergarten does help the high-end kids; they get to stretch a little bit, whereas there is little time in a half-day for that.”

Savage expressed the reservations of several board members: “It bothers me that we continue to expand and relieve parental responsibility. We may produce better academic results, but how far can this go? Will we be changing diapers one of these days?”

JoAnn Good, high school teacher, asked, “What options would we have for those students whose parents opt out, but whose kids need it the most?”

Leiker replied that the teacher and principal would counsel with the parents and try to convince them of the need. One possibility instead of opting out might be selecting an alternative release time for parents who prefer a shorter day for their child. As yet, no schedules have been proposed.

Bowers said, “Part of the problems we have with at-risk (students) is…the concepts we are trying to teach in kindergarten pushes a lot of the children who aren’t ready. Part of being a kid is spontaneity, play. The sooner we bring them into a regimented environment, the more of that they lose.”

Bowers’ remark received nods of agreement from other board members. No action was taken on the kindergarten issue.

Good, in her role as chair of the Professional Development Committee, reported that the local PDC plan was approved this past fall.

This year’s members are Cindy Vinduska, Katie Rahe, Steve Janzen, Lee Leiker (administrator), Wanda Williams (record keeper) and Good.

Each year the newest member of the committee attends the state regulations meeting to bring back current information. All teachers have the required individual professional development plans on file.

In July 2003 a new set of teacher-licensure regulations went into effect, so the group had to create new procedures and forms, as well as clarify the “service to the profession” category.

“We spent a fair amount of time dealing with those definitions,” Good said, “and will present them to the teachers. The ice storm changed last week’s plans” for inservice days.

Immediately following the winter break, two days of school were cancelled because of an ice storm. The storm also damaged water pipes and heating units in the elementary and middle school buildings, Leiker reported. The school also lost all milk on hand at the elementary and had significant tree damage at the Hill Building.

Leiker complimented the custodial crew for their work, especially Bob Good and Dick Maggard, who worked late into the night Thursday so the school would be ready for classes Jan. 7.

Asked by Savage about the calendar, Leiker said, “We still have a lot of winter left-that’s why we so wanted to have school on Friday. Potentially, we may have problems the rest of this week.”

Leiker said the calendar has no extra days to fall back on.

“We have spring break, but that’s hard to dip into,” he said. “The days I would consider would be the early release days on Jan. 19, Feb. 16, April 20 and May 25. My recommendation would be to utilize those dates.”

The board unanimously approved that recommendation.

In other business, the board:

— voted to extend Leiker’s contract as superintendent for an additional year (through 2006-07);

— voted to keep driver’s education fees at $100 for in-district students, $200 for out-of-district students;

— approve a board/administrator retreat for 6 p.m., Monday, Feb. 7, in the board room.

— heard from Leiker that Tod Gordon has been voted as Middle School Area 3 Principal honoree by the Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals;

— heard from Ploutz that enrollment at the elementary dropped by 5 students at winter break, then gained 6 new students when school resumed;

— heard from Gordon that Hillsboro and Marion will host the Trojan Classic basketball tournament, with three girls’ games to be held in Marion.

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