Officials look at all-day kindergarten; Parents, school board weigh in on topic

By Rob Glidden

Staff Writer

School administrators have made a detailed proposal for all-day kindergarten in Southington, and now the Board of Education will ponder the issue in the months leading up to its budget season.

Before the board’s meeting, parents were invited to another forum to hear a summary of the proposal. The district has talked about implementing full-day kindergarten for a few years and a small pilot program is already underway.

“We’re pleased with the results and I believe you would be pleased with the findings we have for the youngsters who participated,” said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Erardi.

Asked for a show of hands, a clear majority of the roughly 80 parents who attended the forum expressed support for the idea.

“I think if your child is ready, it’s great,” said parent Stacy Tarfano. “I like the idea of spreading out the day.”

However, others who prefer the half-day approach have expressed a variety of concerns about the plan. Lakshmi Frechette has been the most vocal of these parents and issued a press release questioning the proposal from a variety of different angles, including the cost, data that supports the half-day model, and skepticism about whether a full day of school is appropriate for children of kindergarten-age.

“If it is true that we all want to do what is in the best interest of all our kindergarteners, how can we eliminate a program that is developmentally appropriate and more consistent with the emotional maturity of our younger students?” she asks in the release.

During the forum, Frechette asked Erardi if the district planned to keep the half-day program as an alternative. His response was that it did not, but that officials would speak with parents on an individual basis to try and address their specific concerns.

At the BOE meeting, Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith presented the plan in great detail and discussed the overall rationale. She said increasing education standards had been slowly pushing activities like art, music and even recess out of the confines of the half-day program. A full-day program would allow teachers and kids a more relaxed schedule.

“We are not proposing full-day kindergarten because of state standards or test scores,” Smith said. “We are doing it because we believe more time is needed. It is not to increase what we teach, but to spread out what we teach.”

Business Manager Sherri-Lin DiNello presented the financial half of the proposal. The cost of implementing the plan comes to over a million dollars, but officials hope to mitigate some of this with proposed reductions to other parts of the school budget. With these suggestions taken into account, the final budget impact would be $396,411, with about $143,000 of this amount representing a one-time expense. If added to the school budget, it would increase the bottom line by .48 percent.

Board members expressed a variety of thoughts on the idea. Despite Smith’s comments that the idea was not being proposed with test scores in mind, Chairman Brian Goralski spoke for several of his colleagues when he said that he expected the program would have an impact on the testing performance of first-graders, especially in regard to literacy.

“We’re being asked to spend money to do this,” added board member Jill Notar-Francesco. “We need to see concrete numbers that support why we should vote for this.”

Board member Colleen Clark, a nursery school teacher, drew applause from the crowd when she said that the benefits students would receive from a less hectic program couldn’t be measured in numbers.

Administrators said that the full-day idea had been endorsed unanimously by district teachers and principals and some board members also discussed its merits.

“I don’t like what I’m hearing about the half day program being rushed,” said board member Patricia Queen. “I think what’s important is that love of learning and a love of school and that could be the most important potential outcome from this.”

The board is not expected to take a formal vote on the proposal in the near future. The decision on the matter will be reflected in the coming fiscal year’s budget and whether or not the officials decide to include the necessary funds for the full-day program.

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