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Chester County Press

Avon Grove School Board votes to implement full-day kindergarten

06/13/2016 04:28PM ● By Steven Hoffman

After nearly a full year of discussion and debate, the Avon Grove School Board voted 7-1 to implement a full-day kindergarten program in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

The district’s administrative team, led by superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese, has long championed a transition to full-day kindergarten as a way to help prepare the district’s youngest students for their academic careers. Full-day kindergarten was also a cornerstone of the district’s strategic plan that was developed by a committee that included administrators, staff members, and the community.

“We know that a full-day program provides a strong foundation in academic, social and emotional skills,” said Marchese in a statement. “The current two-and-a-half hour kindergarten day gives our teachers and students less time than many of them even had during a preschool day. A full-day program will allow for more dynamic, hands-on learning. It’s the right thing to do for the students of this community.”

After spending months discussing and debating the issue—including a vote in late January that saw the school board deadlocked at 4-4 on a vote to implement the program in time for the school year that begins in September—the vote at the June 9 school board meeting was surprisingly quick.

School board member Herman Engle made the motion to approve the full-day kindergarten program and school board vice president Brian Gaerity seconded the motion. Gaerity also read from a prepared statement explaining his ongoing support for full-day kindergarten because of the benefits it offers to students.

Board member Patrick Walker, who voted against implementing the program during the January vote, said that he would be supporting full-day kindergarten on this vote.

“I thought the vote (in January) was premature and I voted against it,” Walker explained. “I still had questions at that time.” Walker added that Marchese and the administrative team had answered all those questions.

School board member Charles Beatty, who has been the most outspoken critic of the full-day kindergarten proposal, said that his concerns about the financial impact of the program remain. “If we approve full-day kindergarten tonight, I foresee similar increases in future spending that will continue to out-pace our income,” he said. Beatty reiterated his opposition to moving forward with the kindergarten program without a five-year financial plan in place.

“Without a comprehensive financial forecast, I believe we are flying blind, and thus neglecting our fiduciary responsibility given to us by the Avon Grove community,” he said.

This time, however, the school board overwhelmingly voted in favor of full-day kindergarten, 7-1.

The implementation of this program is the latest illustration of the school district’s commitment to advance from having good schools to having great ones—a stated goal that aligns with what the district heard from parents and residents in the school district during surveys over the last few years.

The school district conducted a survey of parents and found that there was strong support for full-day kindergarten. The absence of a full-day option has been a reason for parents to choose to send their children to the Avon Grove Charter School or private schools in the area.

District officials have projected that the first-year kindergarten enrollment will be approximately 274 students. District officials believe that they can accommodate that number of students at Penn London Elementary without disrupting the existing academic program for first and second grades. Eventually, modular classrooms will be used for the additional kindergarten students.

While there have been some concerns expressed by residents about the costs of implementing full-day kindergarten, district officials say that those costs will be largely offset as a result of the return of charter school students to the Avon Grove School District, which will reduce, on a per-pupil basis, the amount of money that Avon Grove sends to the charter school. Operating a full-day kindergarten program could be cost-neutral by the second year of implementation, according to district officials.

Proponents of full-day kindergarten have maintained that the benefits will be worth the costs.

A team of administrators and teachers has been analyzing the proposed change for months. They conducted site visits to other full-day kindergarten programs and worked on analyzing a full-day kindergarten curriculum.

“Some people believe full-day kindergarten is just babysitting, or on the other extreme that it is asking too much academically of our students too soon,” said Kalia Reynolds, the director of elementary education, who is leading the team. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Students will certainly have more time on task to truly learn concepts and standards, but they will also have more time to practice the essential self-regulation, social and emotional skills while they are learning. At the elementary level, those skills are critical to help them be successful in a classroom setting.”

Marchese said that he is looking forward to the start of the 2016-2017 school year so that they can plan for the implementation of the kindergarten program.

The district has a section of its website dedicated to the full-day kindergarten program, and more information, including a list of frequently asked questions, will be added in the coming weeks.