The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Full Day Kindergarten discussed at town hall
By Seth Hancock
Among the many issues discussed at a town hall meeting hosted by School District U-46 Board of Education members Phil Costello and Cody Holt, Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) was one of the most hotly debated on Monday, Feb. 29 at the Bartlett Public Library.
The meeting had about 60 in attendance and Costello said that the event was meant for people “to listen to each other” and he wants more discussion on the issues rather than personal attacks. He also said he wants to hear more student voices, which were present and spoke in regard to a physical education waiver controversy.
On FDK, the debate is between those who have already decided that the merits are there and it should be implemented district-wide next year and those who believe more questions need to be answered, most importantly on the costs. The town hall was about evenly split on those for and against FDK.
Board member Jeanette Ward has opposed FDK from the start for financial reasons as well as for her belief that children at that age should spend more time at home with their parents. Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Donna Smith and Veronica Noland have supported it from the beginning while both Costello and Holt have said they’re open but want certain questions answered.
Showing an unwillingness to debate the merits of FDK at a September committee meeting, Ellis claimed Ward wasn’t living in reality saying the board needs “to govern the district you have, not the one that you, I don’t know, dream up in your mind or whatever.” She claims the high number of Hispanic and low-income students justify the need for FDK.
At the town hall, those in support ranged from those saying the kids come first to teachers do not have enough time in the two and a half hour half-day kindergarten currently offered to all students. Of the 2,700 kindergarten students currently in U-46, 250 are going full-day by invitation and another 80 extended-day which is tuition-based.
One attendee who said she is a teacher in the district said that the taxpayer may be important, “but you have to take care of the children first.”
“They come first. It’s not us the taxpayers…. The 40,000 children’s lives are in your hands and our hands every day, and you have to take that into consideration. Even if you don’t have a child in the district, even if you’re not in the district you have to take that into consideration,” that teacher said.
Roger Wallace, who sits on the Citizens’ Advisory Council, said his wife is a FDK teacher in another district.
“She said that the kids, they obviously get tired at the end of the day… but in general it’s working really well for her,” Wallace said.
Another teacher said that they are expected to have kindergarten students to be reading at a first grade level by the end of the year, and they need the extra time to teach the curriculum. The administration has proposed a play-based curriculum for FDK which Peggy Ondera, director of Early Learners, previously said would be “free-form” learning.
As the debate has gone on, the district has provided research from the University of Virginia to support FDK that only provides data for after the kindergarten year. Most of the studies that show FDK is not beneficial show that any gains made after the kindergarten year are lost, in some instances by first grade.
Ward has referenced studies that show FDK is not beneficial and The Examiner has reported on studies as well such as data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort and a Drake University study.
One town hall attendee said she has been a FDK teacher at a private school and described it as “more of a babysitting service.” She said students who will achieve will do so whether they attend a full or half-day of kindergarten.
U-46 has said that FDK will eventually pay for itself with an expected over $3.6 million in added General State Aid each year starting in 2017-18 representing the bulk of added revenue, but one town hall attendee said another district in the state has had to discontinue FDK because of a lack of funding.
One attendee said that “everybody wants free childcare” which received laughs and boos from supporters, and another asked why the district can’t provide FDK as a tuition-based option. A supporter said it would be discriminatory to make parents pay while an opponent said there are government services that could help impoverished families pay.
Of the first 1,428 families to initially register for next year, 1,346 chose FDK and a supporter said parents want it.
Art Pierscionek, a parent in the district, said: “Where did they come up and say that they want this? Is this just at a special meeting where only certain parents were invited? I’m not aware of the process, but since this is affecting everybody in the district, I would have thought [to] go to each town with the leaders of that town.”
Former U-46 board member Karen Carney said “education has to change” and “it’s public education’s job to provide opportunities” in support of FDK.
Wayne resident Rick Newton agreed with Carney that things need to change, but this push for adding new programs is following the status quo. He said U-46 is “at a point of organizational breakdown” needing to borrow money for basic maintenance.
Newton asked: “How long can we sustain this district under the current paradigm that we’re operating?”
Holt said: “This is something that I’ve been very open to on the board. I’ve listened to both sides, and I appreciate the dialogue tonight between everybody in regards to full day kindergarten.”
As the cries that it’s for the kids from those assuming the benefits of FDK, Holt has yet to see “that concrete data that proves it will increase the overall education in the district.” As previously reported by The Examiner, Holt received the Spanish-dominant SUPERA test data, not the MAP scores he was seeking, that showed across the board students in U-46 who have gone through FDK are scoring lower on that second-grade test.
Costello said: “I differ from Cody in that I’ve heard that everyone wants the full day kindergarten, and I think I’ve heard from enough teachers that say that it’s good. My concern is that there’s no revenue to cover it fully.”
Although he feels FDK may make U-46 more competitive among homebuyers, Costello asked: “What do you give up to provide full day kindergarten?”
On the town hall Costello told The Examiner “I really thought it was a good success” and “it covered a lot of ground and there was a good conversation,” and Holt said that “I thought it was a very well attended meeting and there was good dialogue among the participants.”
At the Monday, March 7 board meeting, Costello said he plans to hold quarterly town halls throughout the district and wanted other board members to join. Both Kerr and Noland said they would take him up on that offer.