Howell Public Schools Superintendent Enid Golden started her first meeting of 2013 with the Board of Education with an idea that could change the face of the district for years to come.
With new standards coming from Trenton, Golden suggested looking into the implementation of a full0day kindergarten program. Last week's meeting was the first step in that process that will need look at several factors including costs, staffing and what it will do to the school populations.
Golden said before these new "Common Core Standards," being implemented she believed the district was working effectively to help the younger students in the buildings. "Up until this year I never felt the need to advocate for a full day program," she said. "I felt it was more about the quality of the program than the number of hours."
The new standards, she said, will likely require more time in the classroom even for the youngest students. "We have heard from kindergarten teachers who are finding it difficult to fit the standards in along with the other skills needed to be taught in kindergarten."
She also said after doing some research that close to 75 percent of schools in the state are already offering full day kindergarten adding, "I suspect the other 25 percent will be considering it for next year so that they can meet the new rigor of the new standards." Golden said she also hoped the program would help close the district's achievement gap.
The Howell Public Schools do offer a Kinder Challenge program which provides more time for students in the half day sessions. Golden said students who come in for the morning can stay longer while afternoon students come in earlier focusing on skills like reading, writing and math. The also offer a "transitional," program for first graders who may need more time to mature before making the full move to the next grade.
The district also had a program with the Howell PAL where kindergarteners could get the same experience as other students in the district but was not universally adopted by all families. Golden said in many cases children will go to private schools for kindergarten before enrolling them in the public schools in first grade. "Once we started offering the PAL K wrap program, that number decreased but some parents still choose that (private) option."
Golden has asked Greenville School Principal Lynn Coco to lead a district committee charged with putting together a proposal. She said the group will consist of teachers, administrators and parents. She said she hoped the proposal would be completed by march so it could be budgeted for the 2013-14 school year.
The main issues according to Golden will be things like facilities, transportation and staffing among others. She said the district currently has 13 kindergarten teachers which may have to be doubled.
With all those factors she said the cost will be a major focus. At one of the last meetings of last year the Board of Education discussed keeping a flat budget for the upcoming cycle. Golden said if they were to go will full day kindergarten, "That will be extremely difficult."
Board President Mary Cerretani said, "We need to do the assessment and see what the needs are, what the academic impact is and how the common core standards are not being met right now."
Cerretani said she also wanted to see what the needs would be for facilities and staffing among other costs. Depending on those results she said the ultimate decision could be left to residents of the township. "It might be something that would need to go to referendum," she said. "But I would not know that until after the assessment is done as to where we are."
Board member Tim O'Brien said he supports looking further into the kindergarten proposal. "At the end of the day you have to operate on core principles," he said. "We operate in an environment where the costs are very very high and we know that. We have to control and maintain a flat tax levy if possible in that environment."
The cost will be one factor but O'Brien said they will also look at what is in the best interests of the students. "We can't ignore the realities of what we have to do for the kids in our community," he said.
O'Brien was the president of the board at the time they discussed keeping a flat budget but had also told Golden at that time that they would listen to any case she could make for going above that. "It's a big budget," he said of the close to $100 million allocated to the schools. "We need to look carefully at what we have to prioritize."
Board members Stephen M. Levine and John Van Noy said they are waiting for more information on the what the program would require to operate in the district. Levine said he is mostly concerned on what the committee determines the full day program would do for the district's achievement gap, an area that has been discussed in a variety of ways in the past.
The two newest members of the board are also looking forward to seeing the results of the committee. "I'm open minded about it," said Chuck Welsh. "I'm going to be interested to hear the results of the work that the district's administration does."
Welsh said he does have some "reservations in terms of developmental readiness," and whether full day kindergarten would affect that any more than half day classes. He also said he was concerned about the costs
Jeanne DePompo also said she was interested in seeing what studies had been done while weighing her options and also looking at the costs associated with the change.
DePompo also said with many children enrolling in preschool before entering the elementary levels they are better prepared for kindergarten than they had been in the past. "They're coming into kindergarten knowing a lot more than they did years and years ago," she said.
Several board members also said they wanted to look at the issue in terms of the affect it would have on residents who do not have children in the schools and what it would do to their costs.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 23 at Middle School North.