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Chester County Press

Avon Grove School Board discusses moving to full-day kindergarten

10/19/2015 05:02PM ● By Steven Hoffman

A discussion about full-day kindergarten in the Avon Grove School District topped the agenda for the school board’s committee-of-the-whole meeting on Oct. 8.

Dr. Kalia Reynolds, the district’s director of elementary teaching and learning, explained that moving to a full-day kindergarten program would have several benefits, perhaps most significantly the increased instructional time and learning opportunities for students.

According to Reynolds, teachers say that they feel rushed in the two and a half hours that are allotted now for kindergarten students.

Reynolds said that another educational benefit of offering full-day kindergarten is that the youngest students in the district would be better prepared as they move on to the next grades because they would have a stronger foundation for early academic achievement. There would likely be a decrease in the number of students who would require some form of special education. Studies have shown that full-day kindergarten is helpful to English Language Learners.

The additional teaching time would be good for the district’s teachers because they would be able to increase the creative, dynamic learning, and play-based opportunities.

Expanding to full-day kindergarten would allow Avon Grove to offer a competitive program to attract students. Presently, parents seek out full-day kindergarten programs at charter schools in the area. Avon Grove officials believe that they will be able to retain some of those students if they added a full-day program. This would help reduce Avon Grove’s expenses to charter schools.

We want to have full-day kindergarten. It’s a high-priority initiative,” said Reynolds. “We want our students to be in Avon Grove and matriculate through each grade.”

Dr. Margaret Sharp, the district’s assistant superintendent, made a presentation to the committee- of-the-whole regarding several scenarios for introducing full-day kindergarten in time for the 2016-2017 school year.

Sharp said that in order to analyze some of the enrollment projections, they looked at the maximum capacity for Penn London Elementary, and what the maximum capacity would be if the district brought in modular classrooms.

Sharp said that the district’s current kindergarten enrollment is 228. If the district relied on the classrooms that are available in Penn London Elementary, the building’s capacity is 264 if the maximum class size is kept at 22 students. If the maximum class size for kindergarten is increased to 24 students, the maximum capacity is 288 students, giving the district the chance to add about 60 students.

If the district utilizes modular classrooms and limits the class size to 22 students, Avon Grove could accommodate 308 students. If the class size is increased to 24, the maximum capacity increases to 336 students, more than 100 students over the current enrollment.

Sharp said that the recommendation from the action committee is to keep the class size limit at 22 students.

Daniel Carsley, the district’s business administrator, outlined the financial impact that moving to a full-day program would have for the 2016-2017 school year.

For Option 1, which would utilize only the existing classrooms in Penn London Elementary, there would be a need for additional staffing, including six teachers, which would cost approximately $656,965. Add in the costs for materials for classrooms, furniture, technology, and other expenses, and the total costs for Option 1 is $722,619.

According to projections, the district would see enough students return from the charter schools to see a savings in tuition payments of $275,197. The net impact of Option 1 to the district would therefore be additional costs of approximately $447,422.

For Option 2, which would utilize modular classrooms, there would be a need for an increase in staffing of eight teachers, at a cost of $812,643. The modular classrooms themselves would cost about $1,307,875. Add in the expenses for technology and other materials, and the total costs is $2,192,083. There would be projected savings in charter school tuition of $707,648, making the final impact of Option 2 approximately $1,484,435.

Reynolds outlined a timeline to implement a full-day kindergarten program for the 2016-2017 school year, if that’s what district officials decide to do. The district would develop a website for parents within the next few weeks. The district would also begin an analysis of full-day kindergarten participation in November. This would include a survey of residents to gauge their interest in enrolling their children in the full-day kindergarten program. Next, the district would develop a Frequently Asked Questions guide to share with parents and the community.

If district officials decide on Option 2, which would require the addition of modular classrooms, the district would need to retain a civil engineer and begin document preparation to meet the township’s regulations to get land-development approval in December or, at the latest, January. Carsley said that it takes about 90 days to get the necessary approvals and waivers from the township, and it would take another four months to construct the modular classrooms.

According to the timeline, district officials would visit full-day kindergarten programs in other districts in December and January, and conduct research on the instructional schedules in January of 2016. A series of parent informational forums would then be held from January to May of next year. Registration for the kindergarten program would be underway in May, and district officials would be working on staffing the full-day kindergarten program between April and July.

District officials will be gathering information about the potential impact of full-day kindergarten, starting immediately, and the next update could come as early as the November meeting of the committee-of-the-whole.

School board president Brian Gaerity noted that the research shows that full-day kindergarten is overwhelmingly beneficial for students. Avon Grove officials have discussed the possibility of adding full-day kindergarten many times through the years, but the financial constraints have always prevented the district from doing so.

In Chester County, Kennett, Octorara, Coatesville, Phoenixville are the districts that currently offer full-day kindergarten to all students.

Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese said that district officials are carefully studying how the introduction of full-day kindergarten, and the potential addition of dozens of students, will impact the other schools in the district as these students would advance through the grades.

Several board members expressed their concerns about the difficulty of projecting how many students will be enrolled in the full-day kindergarten program.

The challenge is, we can’t say ‘we’re only going to accept 300 kids when 310 kids show up,” Marchese explained. “We’re a public school district. We don’t have a crystal ball. Enrollment projections are difficult.”

The complexity of the issue was evident as school board members and district officials exchanged thoughts.

Board member Herman Engle raised the interesting question of whether the motivation for the school district to add full-day kindergarten is to get students back from the charter school, or to provide the best education possible to Avon Grove students.

Gaerity talked about the importance of getting students off to a good start at an early age, noting that those students who are behind their peers in third grade typically have a difficult time equaling the academic achievement of their classmates in later grades. And those students who are behind in eighth grade typically struggle to measure up to their peers through the rest of their academic careers.

Gaerity asked a question about the overall educational experience that students would have if the district added modulars at Penn London Elementary.

Reynolds, who previously was the principal of an elementary school, said that youngsters usually have no issues with attending classes in modulars. It’s usually the parents who have a more difficult time with the idea of the modular classrooms. Reynolds also pointed out that if modulars were utilized, the oldest students in Penn London Elementary would be assigned to the modular classrooms, while the youngest students would remain in the existing building.

There is a relatively tight deadline for district officials to decide to move forward with a full-day kindergarten program for the 2016-2017 school year, especially if they believe that modular classrooms would be a necessity. That opens up the possibility that the full-day kindergarten program might not be introduced until September of 2017.

For now, district officials will be gathering information in a number of different areas. The next committee-of-the-whole meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

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