Kindergarten Back to half days

Full day options wanted

Next year’s kindergarteners will attend school five days a week and most days will be longer, if the school budget passes in March.

The Williston School District announced last week the proposed change to the kindergarten schedule in its public budget information session.

The new schedule will have kindergarteners attending school five half-days a week.

Since September 2001, Williston kindergarteners attend school one full day and three half-days a week.

“I think it’s better for the kids,” said parent Christine Fuller, whose son will be attending kindergarten next year. “It’s more consistency for them. I think it’s very inconsistent the way it is today. … Even better is that they’re extending (school) a half hour each of the half days if the budget passes.”

The lengthening of the kindergarten day is dependent upon transportation, which is why the budget must pass before the new schedule can be finalized. Changes to bus routes may be required to make a modified schedule work, necessitating additional driver time and fuel that could cost as much as $10,000.

The new kindergarten schedule would mean up to 30 additional minutes each day, excluding transition time – the equivalent of 26 additional half-days a year, administrators said. That increase is significant. At 11.75 instructional hours a week, Williston has the second shortest kindergarten program in Chittenden South Supervisory Union. Hinesburg has the shortest week at 11 hours; Shelburne has the highest at 15.75 hours, according to a supervisory union study.

Lorene Spagnuolo, who has worked at Allen Brook School for 23 years, said she and the other Allen Brook kindergarten teachers “are really excited to return to a five-day schedule.”

The biggest potential adverse impact, Spagnuolo said, will be on full-time teachers who will have 30 minutes in between sessions to eat lunch and prepare for the afternoon class. Support staff will help morning session students pack up belongings and get to the bus, and greet early arriving afternoon students and engage them in reading or play time.

In spite of those logistical challenges, Spagnuolo sees many benefits, including eliminating what is currently a three-day weekend for kindergarteners and making it easier to meet the needs of students with learning or physical differences who require the assistance of paraprofessionals to accommodate individual education plans.

“We’re hoping that by extending the length of the day we’ll be better able to meet the needs of both the children and the families,” Spagnuolo said, though she emphasized that Allen Brook kindergarten teachers welcome a full-day kindergarten schedule when the budget and space allow.

In 2004-2005, 47 percent of Chittenden County kindergarteners were enrolled in full-day programs, according to the Department of Education Web site. Though not all Williston parents want to send their children to full-day kindergarten, a number of parents said they would like the option.

Laura McClure, who has a daughter about to turn four, isn’t sold on the proposed new schedule that she called “quarter days.”

“I would rather keep the one (full) day a week,” McClure said. “There’d at least be one day with some continuity with it. … It’s a lot of transitions for a young child,” she said, getting bused to and from school and daycare when parents work outside the home.

McClure said she would rather have curriculum instead of transition time, so she already is looking into private kindergarten programs for her daughter for fall 2007. For after school care on “quarter-day kindergarten” days, parents still have to pay for full-day care, McClure said.

“I’m at the point where I might as well pay a little bit more money and have the continuity for her being in one place, having a calmer day, with curriculum throughout the day,” McClure said.

Full-time preschool costs close to $8,000 a year, she said; a full-day private kindergarten the McClures are exploring costs $8,530, with pickup at 5:15 p.m.

Full-day kindergarten would require more classroom space than currently is available, said Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli. Administrators also need more time to study the logistics.

In offering full-day sessions, “there is a rippling impact across the system,” Nardelli said, citing as examples music; art; librarians; bussing; support staff; and hot lunches. “What we had was a very rough estimate of what the teacher side of it would cost, not the impact on the entire system and all the other resources.”

A 2005 supervisory union study estimated increased teaching costs alone at $175,000 to convert all seven kindergarten classes to full days.

Before going ahead, Nardelli said, “let’s make sure we understand all the impacts. …

We’re going to have a lot more answers next year.”