A decision on full-day kindergarten coming soon in Avon Grove
● By Steven Hoffman
A decision as to whether the Avon Grove School District will move forward with a plan to implement a full-day program in time for the 2016-2017 school year could come as early as the next school board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28.
At the Jan. 14 committee-of-the-whole meeting, Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese said that the administration needs direction from the school board about whether they should proceed with efforts to transition from a half-day to full-day kindergarten program. District officials have spent the last several months working on various elements necessary to expand the kindergarten program, ranging from curriculum to professional development to scheduling, and they've also offered reports about how a full-day kindergarten program would impact both the 2016-2017 budget and the programming at the Penn London Elementary School.
Marchese explained that if there isn't a decision by the end of January, it becomes more difficult to effectively accomplish all the work necessary to successfully implement the program at the start of the next school year.
“It's getting to the point where decisions need to be made...to ensure that the program is successful,” Marchese said. “We want to make sure that we are doing this the right way.”
The full-day kindergarten proposal has generated considerable interest in the community and has been the major topic of discussion at school board meetings for months.
School Board President Bonnie Wolff said that a motion on the issue would be added to the Jan. 28 agenda so that school board members have their opportunity to vote for or against a change to a full-day kindergarten program.
Marchese reiterated the administration's view that a full-day kindergarten program would boost learning and provide a good foundation for academic achievement for children.
“There are a lot of people who believe in this,” Marchese said. “We think this is something that will benefit all of our students.”
The school board could direct the administration to proceed with plans for a full-day kindergarten program for 2016-2017, abandon those plans completely and have the district continue to offer a half-day program, or continue the work on implementing full-day kindergarten, but not for the start of the next school year. That last option would give Avon Grove officials more time to study the future impact that a full-day kindergarten program would have on the district.
Marchese said that a team is continuing its work preparing to move forward with full-day kindergarten. District officials are working on professional development and curriculum planning, and they are also in the process of scheduling visits to other local school districts that offer full-day kindergarten to see how those programs work.
One important goal, Marchese said, is to make families of potential kindergarten students in Avon Grove aware of the possibility of full-day kindergarten so that they can enroll their children earlier in the registration process.
“I think there are folks out there waiting for that process to start,” Marchese said.
The district needs to know sooner rather than later how many students will be attending a full-day kindergarten program because it impacts staffing and the day-to-day operations at the Penn London Elementary School.
The district's current kindergarten enrollment is approximately 228 students, but 110 more students attend charter schools. Avon Grove officials believe that full-day kindergarten classes will convince more parents to enroll their children in the district instead of in charter schools. One of the biggest challenges facing district officials is projecting exactly how many of those students will return to the district if it offers full-day kindergarten.
According to district officials, Penn London's capacity for kindergarten is 264 students if the maximum class size is kept at 22 students, and 288 students if the maximum class size is bumped up to 24 students. That allows the district to add about 60 students overall. Any more students than that and the district would very likely need to add Modular classrooms to the Penn London site. That would increase the costs of starting up the full-day kindergarten program.
The district has analyzed the potential costs of several different options for starting full-day kindergarten for the 2016-2017 school year, and the net impact on the next fiscal budget ranges from more than $400,000 if modular classrooms aren't necessary, to approximately $1.3 million if they are. If the modular classrooms aren't necessary in the first year, they most likely would be necessary in year two, so it would seem unlikely that the board would approve a full-day kindergarten program without having modular classrooms be a part of the plan.
School board member Charles Beatty expressed his lingering concerns about how Avon Grove will pay for the full-day kindergarten program year after year without sizable tax increases.
“How do we sustain this over the years and stay within the Act 1 Index?” Beatty asked. He said that the administration should provide the school board and the community with a more thorough analysis of what it will cost the district to provide full-day kindergarten. Beatty said that the district could use up all of the available fund balance in just a few years if it continues to add expenditures.
He also reiterated his doubts about the long-term benefits of providing full-day kindergarten to students. Beatty read from several studies that have been published comparing the benefits of full-day kindergarten to half-day kindergarten. The studies that Beatty selected all concluded that full-day kindergarten programs didn't produce results that were equal to the costs associated with implementing a full-day program.
There has been considerable public comment about full-day kindergarten in recent months. Many residents have spoken in favor of it because of the educational benefits and increased learning time for youngsters, but others have said that the costs of full-day kindergarten are too great.
Noting that the proposed preliminary budget for the next school year already includes a need for a tax increase, resident Donna Dea asked why the district would consider adding another significant expense on top of that.
Others, like resident Bill Wood, an artist who performs in many schools, said that he believes the educational benefits of full-day kindergarten outweigh the costs. Wood explained that he has had the opportunity to talk to many kindergarten teachers in different school districts with full-day kindergarten and “unanimously, teachers loved it. There's a huge social and emotional benefit.”
Responding to Beatty and the studies that he cited, school board member Brian Gaerity noted that the school board members were all provided with a copy of a different study that showed that full-day kindergarten does produce improved results for students.
Marchese said that the district is working on compiling all the information regarding full-day kindergarten into a comprehensive report, and the document will include studies from both sides of the issue.
The Jan. 28 meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be held in the Avon Grove Intermediate School Audion.