Full-day kindergarten discussion tops the agenda again in Avon Grove
● By Steven Hoffman
Four items topped the agenda for Avon Grove’s committee-of-the-whole meeting on May 12: an update on the high school bell schedule; a report about district communications and community engagement; information about the newly formed Facilities Input Group; and a lengthy discussion about the proposed full-day kindergarten program.
Nearly four months after the Avon Grove School Board was deadlocked on whether to move forward with the transition from a half-day to a full-day kindergarten program for the 2016-2017 school year, the district’s administrative team is still seeking direction from the school board. The plan now is to implement full-day kindergarten in time for the 2017-2018 school year.
District officials began working on developing a plan for full-day kindergarten last fall, with the initial goal being to offer the full-day kindergarten for students at the start of the 2016-2017 school year. The district conducted a survey and the results suggested that the community favored a full-day kindergarten program. District officials spent months working out the details of the program. But when the school board was deadlocked, 4-4, on the vote to move forward with the plan, it became necessary to delay the implementation of the program.
The administrative team has advocated moving to a full-day kindergarten program to boost academic achievement and increase the educational opportunities for students. Full-day kindergarten was identified as a priority for the district in a 2014 strategic plan. Some teachers and residents have spoken in favor of full-day kindergarten because of the academic, social, and emotional benefits that it could provide to students.
However, others have said that the costs of implementing full-day kindergarten are prohibitive, especially on top of other academic initiatives that the district is undertaking. The move to full-day kindergarten will require additional staffing, and modular classrooms would likely be needed.
Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese recently provided updated information about financial projections for the costs of operating a full-day kindergarten program, as well as an analysis of class sizes at Penn London Elementary School, and how those class sizes might be impacted by the transition to full-day kindergarten.
One ongoing issue has been trying to project approximately how many kindergarten students will come back to the district as a result of the switch from a half-day to a full-day program. Some parents pursue other options—the Avon Grove Charter School, the Assumption BVM, the Church of the Nazarene, and other schools—specifically because they want a full-day kindergarten program for their children. District officials are expecting that some of those children will return to the district. Each student who returns to the district from the Avon Grove Charter School will reduce the amount on money that the district sends to the charter school. This will help offset some of the costs of providing full-day kindergarten.
School board member Charles Beatty III said that he's concerned that the costs of the full-day kindergarten program are too great. He explained that the district is planning on a certain number of students coming back from the charter school, and if that number falls short, the district will have made expenditures that are not offset by the money that is returning to the district with those students. Additionally, he said, the district doesn't know how many students will be returning from private schools. It will cost the district additional money to educate these students.
Beatty provided his colleagues with some data about the potential costs to the district for these returning students.
“One of the things that I see, as the board considers full-day kindergarten, is that we're kind of rolling the dice here,” Beatty said of the enrollment projections.
School board president Bonnie Wolff disagreed with some of the figures that Beatty was using for projecting how many students would be returning to the district. She also noted that the district would see benefits from making sure that kindergarten students don't fall behind. She explained that right now, if a student falls behind his or her grade level, the district must pay for the resources and support necessary to get the student back on grade level. If the student never falls behind, then that reduces the special education or remediation costs to the school district.
“Special education costs are three times what we would normally pay,” Wolff said.
Board member Jeffrey Billig said that the board should focus its conversation moving forward on whether the district can afford the implementation of a full-day kindergarten program.
Even though the start of the 2017-2018 school year seems far away now, Marchese said that the administration needs a firm direction from the school board one way or another on the issue.
“We do need to make a decision and move forward,” Marchese said. “If the board is going to vote, let’s vote way before next January.”
In other business at the May 12 meeting:
Dr. Mike Snopkowski, the director of secondary teaching and learning, updated the committee about the progress on the plan to change the high school bell schedule for the 2016-2017 school year. The schedule is being changed to maximize the instructional time and learning opportunities for students.
Snopkowki explained that district officials visited Wissahickon High School to learn about how that school’s scheduling has worked to the advantage of students and teachers.
“A significant amount of planning has taken place in just the last two weeks,” Snopkowski said, explaining that the new bell schedule will be ready for the start of the next school year.
The district is continuing its efforts to develop a cohesive and comprehensive plan for communications and community engagement. Tom Alexander, the director of educational support services, said that the committee has been working on the top four recommendations that that were identified as priorities in the communications survey that the district conducted. District officials are working on strategies to implement the recommendations.
There was also a discussion about the district’s Facilities Input Group, which has held its first meeting since being formed last month.
The Facilities Input Group, which includes a broad cross section of the Avon Grove community, will develop a non-binding recommendation of a plan for the district's facilities.
“We have a solid group of people who came forward to serve on this group,” Marchese said.
The school board will hold its next regular meeting on Thursday, May 26 in the audion at Avon Grove Intermediate School. The next committee-of-the-whole meeting is slated for Thursday, June 9.