Saturday, February 14, 2015

School board OKs all-day kindergarten

Tuition will be charged and 260 spots will be available in the first year, with a lottery to decide openings
Wednesday February 11, 2015 11:10 AM

The Westerville Board of Education with a 4-1 vote approved plans to offer all-day kindergarten for a limited number of students, starting this fall.

Selection for one of 260 available spots will be determined by a lottery system and families will be charged a tuition of $300 a month per student.

Launching the program in the district has been under study for some time. Barbara Wallace, the school district's executive director of elementary academic affairs, presented two options for implementation to school board members at their meeting Monday, Feb. 9.

She said the benefits of all-day kindergarten include more time for teachers to teach curriculum, a more relaxed learning environment and higher long-term achievement for students.

"Providing all-day kindergarten would provide peace of mind for parents because students would be learning important skills all day long," she said.

The first option presented was conservative, in the sense that it would serve only 104 students in 2015-16, but also would cost the district less money.

The second option, which the board approved, will offer four classes at now-closed Longfellow Elementary School and six classes in current buildings that have space, and will serve up to 260 students.

For the 2016-17 school year, three kindergarten classes would be added in the magnet program school buildings and additional classes could be added based on community need and available space.

Board President Tracy Davidson said she favored option two in order to "build a better foundation in Westerville" and motioned to move forward with the plan.

In the proposal, tuition costs would be $300 per month per student but would be reduced for families who qualify.

The cost to the district of all-day kindergarten will be offset by tuition payments but also will be funded through the general fund, said Treasurer Bart Griffith.

The state only mandates that districts provide half-day kindergarten but other central Ohio districts, including Columbus, Gahanna-Jefferson, South-Western (also starting this fall), Whitehall and Worthington, offer full-day kindergarten.

Current kindergarten teachers at the meting Monday told board members why they need more classroom time with students.

Huber Ridge Elementary School teacher Kathy Gauen explained how the curriculum has changed drastically and with only 2.5 hours of daily classroom time now, it's difficult to cover all the material.

"We're maximizing the time we have with students right now. But, for students who come to us with a language deficit, we need more time with them before they take that third-grade reading test," she said.

Chris Blados, principal of Huber Ridge, said that half-day kindergarten does not allow students enough play time or allow teachers to go into enough depth.

"The new curriculum standard wants us to go in-depth and with only a short amount of time, it creates a lot of pressure on teachers," he said.

Board member Carol French voiced concerns about the cost of all-day kindergarten. She advocated starting out with a pilot program, similar to the presented first option.

"I worry about trying to satisfy everyone. We can't be all things for everyone," she said.

French was the only board member to vote no.

Superintendent John Kellogg said he supported adopting full-day kindergarten for many reasons, one of which is it will put students back in the Longfellow Elementary building.

Longfellow, 120 Hiawatha Ave., was closed in the summer of 2012 following budget cuts and a planned phaseout of the magnet school program. The program has been restored, but the building remains closed.

Board member Nancy Nestor-Baker said she views full-day kindergarten as an expansion of district services rather than "diving into unchartered territory."

"I'm concerned that if we don't address our diverse incoming population, we won't be able to maintain our current level of excellence. We need to provide students the best environment to help them become ready for school," she said.

Board member Rick Vilardo said his biggest concern is there might not be enough time to notify the community of the change.

Wallace assured the board that the community will become aware of the change during a planned media blitz in February and March.

District kindergarten enrollment will open in March, with the all-day kindergarten lottery drawing taking place at the end of April, and parents will be notified of the lottery outcome in May, she said.