Big Walnut school board members are considering optional all-day kindergarten for the district starting as early as next fall.
School administrators are exploring the possibility and the practicality of offering tuition-based, all-day kindergarten. Parents would be given the choice to pay for a second half-day of kindergarten so their children can spend more time on current curriculum and improving reading levels, leaders said.
At the school board's meeting Thursday, Jan. 9, Assistant Superintendent Angie Pollock said students are expected to be able to read when they leave kindergarten. By providing the option of all-day kindergarten, schools are able to assist children at a much earlier age and prepare them for the long run.
"When we think back into kindergarten, it is not cutting and pasting like it was when we were kids," Pollock said. "It's very rigorous and we are wanting kids to read at a decent level by the time they leave."
In 2010, the state board of education adopted Common Core, an outline used by multiple states to indicate proficiency levels for each grade in language arts and math. Though adopted a few years ago, the standards will be in effect the 2014-15 school year.
According to Common Core reading standards, kindergartners should be able to interpret content by asking and answering questions, to sound out words at a basic phonological level, and engage in group reading activities.
Currently, there is no data available from the state board of education indicating current kindergarten reading levels for the school district. A K-3 literacy improvement section will appear on the 2015 state report card.
Pollock would not give an estimate on the cost of tuition and simply said more research needs to be completed as well as additional discussions with the school district's treasurer. However, Pollock said the district would offer reduced tuition or free tuition based on parents' economic situation.
"It's a service we can give our community, to provide a strong academic foundation and do it at a rate to keep it affordable for our families," Pollock said.
If every child participated in the full-day option, the district would need to hire six additional licensed teachers who specialize in early-childhood education. The district would make sure transportation options are provided as well, officials said.
Board member Mindy Meyer expressed concerns about students entering first grade and the district's first-grade teachers. Meyer said she wants to make sure students would receive the same education to prepare for the next level, whether they attend full- or half-day kindergarten.
Meyer also wants teachers to be prepared for discrepancies, she said.
"I want to make sure the first-grade teachers can handle the differentiation in the teaching," Meyer said. "Kindergarten teachers might be used to it because they have kids coming in who had preschool (and) didn't have preschool. It is going to kind of be a similar situation."
Students who attend all-day kindergarten would not necessarily receive additional instruction, but are allowed more time to practice skills and work at their own levels. Superintendent Steve Mazzi said the key is to work with each child at his or her comprehension level.
"It is exactly what we do for a child who is leaving first grade, second grade, third grade, whatever grade. When a child goes to that next grade level, wherever they are, that's where we are going to start teaching them from," Mazzi said. "It's what differentiated instruction is all about."
Pollock said if students are learning a lesson about cause and effect, students may read different passages about cause and effect appropriate for their reading levels. Though students may be reading different passages, each child would learn the same overall skill in the lesson.
"We can push kids higher so they are reading at a higher reading level, but practicing the same skills within their reading," Pollock said. "It's not an issue of getting kids too far ahead; it's more an issue of pulling up those kids who need the extra time."
Pollock said all-day kindergartners would have breaks during the day but attend school at the same time as elementary school students, which is roughly 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Currently, half-day kindergarten runs 21/2 hours, starting at 8:25 a.m. or 12:25 p.m.
"I think it could get them (students) more acclimated to school," Pollock said.
Though the district already has received interest from families about an all-day kindergarten option, Pollock said the next step is to send out surveys to gain additional feedback.
Administrators will present a formal presentation to the school board at the next meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13 in the media center at Big Walnut High School, 555 S. Old 3C Road.