The Brookfield Board of Education (BOE) and school district administrators held an extensive discussion Wednesday night on the merits of a proposed full day kindergarten program at Center Elementary School (CES) that would provide additional instructional time to address a more ambitious state curriculum but might leave students exhausted by the end of the day.
“Due to an increase of student expectations with the new Common Core State Standards, more time is needed to meet the new kindergarten content standards,” Assistant Superintendent Genie Slone told the BOE during a PowerPoint presentation on the proposal.
“More time is needed to assess students’ progress on the new content standards,” she added during the regular BOE meeting.
Slone said under the current system all kindergarten students attend CES for half a day on Monday and then half of the students assigned to each of the nine classroom teachers goes for a full day on Tuesday and Thursday and half a day on Wednesday and Friday and the other students have a full day on Wednesday and Friday and half days on Tuesday and Thursday.
Under the plan presented by Slone and CES Principal Carrie Kilian, all students would have half a day of instruction on Monday and then a full day from Tuesday through Friday.
“The conflict for me is that the core standards are real,” BOE Chairman Ray DiStephan said in an interview after the meeting.
“There are things that we have to do,” he added. “Trying to cram it into the time that we have may not be in the best interest of the youngsters. But it’s such a long day for four days in a row. I think it’s asking a lot of a kid.”
“I think we might need to let kids be kids,” BOE member Harry Shaker said regarding the possible strain of attending school for a full day so often at ages four and five.
Superintendent Anthony Bivona said there was a similar dialogue some years ago in Old Saybrook, where he was the special education director at the time, and “the kids coming in were ready for the full day.”
However, he said there “is a balance” between covering the material required in the upgraded state standards and allowing kindergarten students to have adequate time for recess activities.
Board of Finance (BOF) member Jerry Friedrich, a former BOE chairman, said during public comment that the BOE had a “similar discussion” five years ago and then-Assistant Superintendent Barbara Canavan, a former principal at CES, said that kindergarten students “need rest periods” and that the added instruction might be “a net of two to three hours a week for the kids.”
Slone said as a result of the more ambitious state standards for kindergarten “the landscape has changed dramatically” over the last five years.
Friedrich said he wasn’t taking a position on the proposal, but urged the BOE to “consider the financial impact and what you will be getting back” in comparison to spending money to improve other programs in the school district.
DiStephan said the proposal would not increase costs since the kindergarten teachers currently work with a smaller enrollment four afternoons a week and would now try to accomplish the same objectives with all of the students for a full day from Tuesday through Friday.
He said there might be a savings since the early afternoon bus runs would be eliminated four days a week.
Slone said several members of the state District Reference Group (DRG) A, which includes some of the most proficient school districts in the state, have established a full day kindergarten program.
“The fact that other school districts are doing it forces you to consider it,” DiStephan said.
Slone said fewer schools in DRG B, which includes Brookfield and 20 other districts, have gone to full day kindergarten, but several are currently considering it and others wanted to take that step but couldn’t because of financial constraints.
She said of the 140 surveys completed by the parents of the current CES kindergarten students, 95 preferred a full day schedule, 40 favored the current extended day format and five had no preference.
Slone said the survey indicated that parents supported the full day schedule for several reasons, including the “mix of learning and playing without being rushed” and the academic benefits.
She said that the parents that prefer the current format stated that, among other things, they believe children that age “are too young for a full day program” and the smaller afternoon enrollments on Tuesday through Friday provide valuable instruction.
DiStephan said he believes the BOE will continue to discuss the proposal next month and will probably take a vote on it by the November 2 meeting.