School Board tables discussion on pilot for all-day kindergarten
By Dan Truttschel
Lake Geneva Regional News
Approval of a pilot all-day kindergarten program in the Williams Bay School District was tabled after a lengthy discussion by the School Board Monday night.
District Administrator Dr. Fred Vorlop told the board and the large crowd in attendance that studies have shown that an all-day kindergarten better prepares children for first grade.
"It would allow increased time for developmentally and individually appropriate learning activities," Vorlop said. "It would allow teachers to explore topics in depth, providing for greater continuity for day-to-day activities.
"Studies have shown that children do better, at least first- through fourth-grade, as a follow up to that added time in kindergarten."
Another benefit, Vorlop said, is that it would save the district approximately $8,000 in transportation costs.
The board also could raise additional funds, between $10,000 the first year and $13,600 in the third year if the program continued, Vorlop said.
Should the district need one or two aides to assist the full-time kindergarten teacher, Vorlop said the cost would be approximately $5,000 for one aide and $10,000 for two.
The need for two aides would eat up the additional funds available to the district, Vorlop said.
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After Vorlop's brief presentation, however, several concerns were voiced by both parents and longtime kindergarten teacher Hildegard Anderson.
The current estimate is 21 children in kindergarten next year, but if that number grows by even three or four, Anderson said the class may be difficult to manage for an entire day.
"I had 25 alone in that classroom for a half day nine years ago, and I don't think the needs were as great as individual children as they are now," Anderson said.
"Even having 25 children in that classroom all day, that's a lot of children in a small room."
Vorlop said should the program eventually be implemented, the plan is to look at it on a yearly basis to see if it's working.
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"I think we would want to take it one year at a time," he said.
"We would look first and foremost at the comments of the teacher in terms of how the thing works out at the end of one year. I'm sure we would also seek the comments of parents at the end of that year as well."
A drastic increase in the kindergarten enrollment would be another factor for the district to consider, Vorlop said.
One reason for the proposal Monday night is the current number of 21 future kindergartners appears to be manageable in an all-day setting, Vorlop said.
"We're not likely to see 25 in that class," he said. "I suppose it's not beyond the realm of possibility; but it's also possible that we could have 16 or 18 as well. We don't really know. Twenty-one is what we have now, and 21 is what we're planning on."
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Parents voice opposition
An unidentified parent told the board that she enrolled her child in the district because it offers half-day kindergarten.
A change to full day may make her adjust her thinking.
"I'm not sure I want my child in a 'study' of an all-day kindergarten program," she said.
Vorlop said the program really isn't a "study," however, but a pilot that will be adjusted when the need arises.
"It's not as if we're somehow going to test those youngsters, that they either are or are not better off," he said. "We're reflecting what is being done in a lot of different school districts in the area: Fontana, Traver, Reek, Lake Geneva.
"It's something that's based on early-childhood advocates that are encouraging this; consequently, we're making the recommendation."
Parent Lynne Landgraf said she currently has a child in kindergarten and a half day is more than enough time in school.
"He wouldn't be able to be there all day," she said. "He comes home, and he's drained and tired. He's played hard and just wants to be home. He's done his brain work for the day."
First-grade teacher Lois Olson told the board her daughter's children attend school in McFarland, which has eight kindergarten classes, including six that meet all day, one that's "transitional" and a half day.
The transitional kindergarten meets half days for half of the year, Olson said.
Olson said that McFarland emphasizes academic lessons in the morning, while the remainder of the day is filled with nap time, lunch and recess.
"The half-day kids don't get some of the extra stuff; they get all the academics in the morning," she said. "Those kids are as ready academically as the ones who go all day.
"Some kids are ready to do it, but there's a whole lot of them who aren't. You can pour academics in them all day, and their cup fills up, and you can't get any more in because they're just not developmentally ready."
Vorlop said he was a bit surprised by the negative feedback from parents, as his experience has been that many favor an all-day kindergarten.
"Generally speaking, where all-day kindergarten is offered in some schools, the pressure usually is to create all-day kindergarten in all schools because parents want it," he said.
"That doesn't seem to be the case among parents that are here tonight, but I can tell you that in school districts where that's done, that's the usual result, that there's pressure for all-day kindergarten in all schools."
Three board members, Monte Thompson, Jane Smith and Carolyn Machura, each said they were against the change.
"I personally feel that kids need to be with their families as long as possible before they go into the public school system," Thompson said. "Families have to have an opportunity to develop, grow and solidify before we get our hands on them."
Board member Peter Miller said he favored the change, but added that after he heard the audience's comments, he wanted more information before a vote was taken.
"I didn't know we had an opposition to it," Miller said. "I thought it was pretty much something everybody wanted."
The board ended the discussion without taking a formal motion, but reached a consensus that the issue would be revisited after more information is gathered.
President Vern Choyce said he was surprised to learn of the opposition to the proposal the night a vote was scheduled.
"I'm a little surprised for all the discussion that has occurred that it seems to take this community until there's an action that's going to occur for anybody to get up and specifically speak to it," he said.
Landgraf and several parents took exception, as they told Choyce the first time they had heard of a possible change was late last week.
"I found out about it by overhearing a conversation," Landgraf said. "I didn't see it on any bulletin board or in the newspaper.
"Please, we'll be happy to show up at these meetings. Tell us where to find the information in a timely manner, not three months later, and we'll be here."