Committee recommends full-day K

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REGION 16 — The recommendation is in and it’s unanimous — Region 16 should implement full-day kindergarten in the 2015-16 school year.

“We were really careful to examine both the advantages and disadvantages of full-day kindergarten and, at the end of this process, we found that as a committee our feeling was that the pros and the benefits outweighed the disadvantages,” Rima McGeehan, principal of Algonquin and Community schools, told the Board of Education at its Jan. 28 meeting.

McGeehan is a member of a full-day kindergarten planning committee that was formed early last year to review implementing a full-day program in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The committee presented its finding to the board last week and recommended the move to full-day kindergarten be made.

“We on the committee believe that full-day kindergarten is really about providing an education for the whole child,” said Jeffrey Haddad, assistant principal of Algonquin and Community schools and committee member.

School officials said full-day kindergarten would provide a solid foundation of learning for students from all backgrounds with an equal focus on academic, social and emotional growth.

Full-day kindergarten would extend the school day from the current two hours and 45 minutes to six and half hours. The longer day, schools officials said, would provide more time for student-teacher connection and engagement as well as developing early literacy and numeracy skills. The longer day would also allow for physical education and the arts to be a bigger part of the day for kindergarteners, officials said.

The school board has been discussing going to full-day kindergarten for several years. Those talks ramped up when the three-part school building project was approved in 2011. The new Prospect Elementary School, which will replace Algonquin and Community schools, and the renovations being done at Laurel Ledge School in Beacon Falls include space to expand to full-day kindergarten.

The school board is expected to vote on implementing full-day kindergarten at its Feb. 25 meeting. If approved, a full-day program would begin in the 2015-16 school year.

The cost to implement full-day kindergarten next school year is $388,521, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said. The figure includes $377,021 for 3.5 additional teaching positions and four instructional aides.

Yamin said implementing a full-day program will be “budget-neutral” next school year. After factoring in a $455,353 saving from the reallocation of staff — most of which will occur once Algonquin and Community schools are combined into the new school — and a $6,000 savings from canceling midday busing, there would be a net savings of $72,832, he said.

The figures are proportionate to the current budget, Yamin said.

Yamin fully endorses implementing full-day kindergarten in the district.

“I think it’s one of the major components to us being an extremely high-performing district,” Yamin said.

If the school board decides to make the change, Region 16 will join a growing number of school districts that have implemented full-day kindergarten.

According to school officials, 88 percent of districts in the state have a full-day program. Thirty-one of the 34 districts in Region 16’s District Reference Group — school districts grouped together based on similar socioeconomic factors — also have full-day kindergarten, officials said.

The thought of implementing full-day kindergarten in the region drew opposing views from two members of the public who spoke to the board last week.

Janet Roberts of Prospect, who opposed the idea and tied her concerns together with the new Common Core State Standards, said there are many good ways to improve education that do not include more money and longer school days.

Melissa O’Neil of Prospect said she teaches in another school district that made the switch to full-day kindergarten. She said a full-day program provides more time for quality instruction and for students to develop peer interactions and social skills.

“I’m here to ask you to give our students the benefit of time — time for high quality teaching, time for learning, time for interactions and play and time for our children to become successful life-long learners,” she said.

The public will get another chance to discuss full-day kindergarten during a question and answering session scheduled for Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at Long River Middle School in Prospect. The full-day kindergarten planning committee will host the forum and members of the public are welcome to discuss the impact versus the benefits of full-day kindergarten.