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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

Full-day kindergarten remains hot U-46 topic

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 will be presented with the Citizens’ Advisory Council’s (CAC) recommendations for boundary changes for the district’s elementary schools which also coincide with the administration’s proposal to offer full-day kindergarten to all families.
  Late in the game, the district administration asked that the boundary changes take into account the possibility of offering full-day kindergarten next school year, 2016-17, which would include building additions on three schools. The CAC has worked on the boundary changes for 14 months and the administration’s proposal came this September.
  At a board committee meeting shortly after the full-day kindergarten proposal was announced, Peggy Ondera, U-46’s director of Early Learners, said “we’re rallying the troops” in support of it. That rallying may be causing tensions to rise as Jeanette Ward, one of the four newest board members, became the target of one district teacher at a board meeting on Monday, Nov. 16.
  Ward has opposed full-day kindergarten for both financial and principled reasons. Although she thinks a play-based curriculum, which is what the district has plans for using, is appropriate at that age, she questioned the necessity of it at the expense of taxpayers.
  “If schooling is play, then it could be argued that it’s really high-quality babysitting, at least a portion of it, at taxpayer expense,” Ward said on Nov. 16.
  Ward added that “I philosophically disagree with interfering with parental privilege and responsibility, and especially when that interference is stated with the intention to begin at birth” referring to the proposal citing the Illinois Birth through Third Grade Institute which the district used to develop to play-based curriculum.
  Garrick Balk, a district teacher, took offense to that statement as he spoke during public comments and twice misstated that Ward called teachers “overpriced babysitters.”
  “For you to say that having our children go through full-day kindergarten is a waste of money only to be paid to overpriced babysitters is an insult,” Balk said.
  Before Balk took offense at that statement, one of his colleagues in the district, Tamika Morales, questioned the abilities of parents at the September meeting when she said: “You know what they have at home? They have a TV, and a TV is not a babysitter.”
  Ondera did say at the September meeting that teachers would “facilitate, watch and observe children” as it would be a “free-form” environment.
  The district’s proposal has cited a study to support its claim that full-day kindergarten is beneficial to all students, but Ward noted that there are studies showing the opposite including some reported on in a Huffington Post article.
  Balk opened by saying: “I for one am not an overpriced babysitter, nor are my colleagues. Mrs. Ward, I suggest that you get a little more detailed in your research besides the Huffington Post. You will find that the benefits outweigh the tax savings when we approach our children at their earlier age.”
  As previously reported by The Examiner, the research is unclear based on the fact there are multiple studies on both sides. Ward has previously stated other studies and posted studies on her public Facebook page.
  The study the district cites in its proposal, “Experimental Evidence on Early Intervention: The Impact of Full-day Kindergarten” out of the University of Virginia, claims the random selection of children studied makes it more accurate and the findings show positive gains after the kindergarten year for full-day students compared to half-day. The edcentral.org post the district got the study from admits there is no long-term data beyond the end of the kindergarten year.
  In contrast, data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort shows any gains are lost by the end of first grade and a Duke University study, “Effects of Full-Day Kindergarten on Academic Achievement and Social Development,” shows gains are lost by the end of third grade.
  Board member Cody Holt wants more concrete, localized data as he said on Nov. 16 that he is unsure of how he’ll vote on the proposal. There are approximately 2,750 kindergarten students currently in the district, 250 in full-day classes provided for free to some Title I families and tuition-based for others.
  Holt noted that “about five to six (full-day) kindergarten classes have gone through second grade” to take the MAP tests which he wants to see the results.
  “I want to see if we have any of our own internal data that shows that all-day kindergarten has been beneficial,” Holt said.
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said he’d have the staff look for that data.
  The votes appear to be there for support of the proposal as Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith all said they support full-day kindergarten on Nov. 16. None offered an explanation for their support, but Kerr asked if the district would still need to build additions if it wasn’t approved.
  “If we don’t do the additions for next year, we’re going to need to replace eight to 10 mobiles which is going to cost us a few million dollars,” said Jeff King, chief Operations officer.
  The district offered no proposal to build additions until this full-day kindergarten plan surfaced. Those additions would cost about $9.6 million, part of a $14.5 million initial cost to implement.
  U-46 estimates adding 55 new teachers with implementation.
  “If we now introduce new programs, costs continue to increase,” Ward said. “And taxpayers are having difficulty grappling with paying for the current offerings.”
  The discussion came as the board gave direction to the district on what kind of budgets the district should present to the board for next year. Board member Phil Costello said the administration should include full-day kindergarten in the budget but understand that it could be cut if necessary.
  Costello said: “Obviously that would be one of the programs that you would be listing as an item that we may be faced with cutting if the needs do not demonstrate the support for it.” 
  Those wishing to speak on the boundary changes or full-day kindergarten proposal may at a special board meeting on Monday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. in the South Elgin High School auditorium.



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