The initial discussion of full-day kindergarten at the Farmington Board of Education meeting involved an onslaught of questions before members could begin to look toward a decision.
The board raised dozens of questions and requested data from administrators about issues ranging from students’ current success to cost to space considerations.
“The takeaway is that Farmington does not rush head-on into something without being thoughtful, prepared and research-based and that’s how we’re going to approach this conversation,” school board Chairman Mary Grace Reed concluded.
Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Greider indicated that she brought the issue to the board in part because the community has asked for it and because many of the other districts to which Farmington compares itself (District Reference Group B) have switched to a full-day program.
Towns that have moved to a full-day program in the past year include Brookfield, Simsbury, Glastonbury, Granby, New Fairfield and Trumbull, with South Windsor hoping to implement the program in 2013-14.
Notably, Avon, Cheshire, Guilford, Madison, Monroe, Newtown and Region 15 have not.
Staff and board members noted that Farmington, through its EXCL program, offers full-day kindergarten at a cost, with 43 percent of Farmington kindergartners participating.
Still, one of the major reasons for moving to full-day kindergarten for some districts is equity. While some children come to school prepared, usually after attending preschool, others have some catching up to do.
Board member Betsy Kaplan asked whether an academic achievement gap is evident between those students who attend EXCL – noted as a seamless extension of the kindergarten class – and those who do not.
Greider said that while that information is not currently known, the district uses reading recovery specialists and interventions to help those students who need extra help. And test results bear out the method’s success, she said.
In Farmington, Greider said, 89 percent of kindergartners in June of 2012 were meeting the end-of-year standards for reading; 89.2 percent for math; and 87.1 percent for writing.
By third grade, the numbers are even higher, with Farmington scoring at the top of the DRG.
Another reason other districts have given is to prepare for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards – something Farmington is already doing.
Greider said she couldn’t estimate the possible cost of shifting to all-day kindergarten, but she said that this year the district has 13 sections of kindergarten. Currently, some are in the morning and some in the afternoon, allowing one teacher to teach two classes during the day.
Board member Jon Landry asked Greider if that would mean the district would need to hire 13 new teachers. She said the number of teachers needed would depend on enrollment projections.
The smaller district of Granby moved to all-day kindergarten this year, adding 3.5 new teachers to the district and 3.5 new paraprofessionals, at a cost of just under $300,000, according to The Valley Press.
But Granby and Simsbury, which made a quick decision to make the switch last year, are funding their programs through grant money by accepting an increased number of Project Open Choice students. The grant money is tiered: the higher percentage of Open Choice students, the higher the individual reimbursement rate, with the highest payout for taking kindergartners.
The board will wait for Greider to collect information regarding its questions before resuming the conversation at another board meeting.