Delaware News

Big Walnut's all-day kindergarten moves forward

Number of classrooms, venues yet to be determined, but interest high among parents, district leaders say

By MARY POSANI
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The Big Walnut Local School District will offer optional all-day, tuition-based kindergarten starting next school year.

The district is preparing to reopen Harrison Street Elementary School for its additional classroom space, and leaders said they wanted to provide the all-day option to parents before the next school year.

About 85 parents attended an informational meeting held Thursday, Jan. 23, at General Rosecrans Elementary School.

"If we have the space available next year, even though it may be a messy process to get things in place, that's a whole grade of kids that could have the advantage of all-day kindergarten," Assistant Superintendent Angie Pollock said.

According to new Common Core state standards, kindergartners are expected to meet certain benchmarks for reading and critical thinking prior to entering first grade.

The optional all-day kindergarten will allow students to continue practicing skills at their own pace and level. However, no additional lessons will be taught, so students who attend half-day kindergarten are not at a disadvantage.

"We know the greater impact on literacy instruction is between the ages of 3 and 5, which is a huge argument for all-day kindergarten," Pollock said. "As we continue to move forward, we would rather put those resources on the front end."

A recent district survey showed 150 parents were interested in the option of all-day kindergarten.

At last week's meeting, parents asked about the tuition cost, teacher-to-student ratio, busing and what students would do during the second half of the day.

State funds stretch only so far, which is why this option has been unavailable in the past and must be tuition-based, Pollock said. Kindergarten brings in only half the funding that other grades receive, she said.

"That's why when you look around, you see a lot of people don't offer full-day kindergarten -- because it's not funded very high," Pollock said. "For us, we get less than half from the state because we are very funded by local tax dollars."

Tuition for the full-time kindergarten would be $275 a month, payable in nine installments from September through May. Based on Ohio law, the district will offer reduced rates to families who qualify.

Other central Ohio school districts, including Worthington, offer a tuition-based kindergarten at about $310 a month.

"I would love to do it for free, but we're just not at position to do that right now," Pollock said. "Eventually, I hope we would be in a position where the state funds more of it or we are able to do more of that locally as our financial situation improves in the district."

Another issue in the past has been lack of classroom space. Harrison Street will reopen in the fall, allowing more potential space for at least one all-day kindergarten class, if not more, Pollock said.

Based on growth trends, the district estimates between 240 and 250 kindergartners will enroll in the fall. With an all-day kindergarten option, the district plans a maximum of 25 students per classroom.

If every child opts into the all-day kindergarten, the district would need to hire six more teachers, Pollock said.

The Big Walnut school board plans to vote at its next meeting Feb. 13 to set the 2014-15 school calendar and busing schedule. Classes likely will start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. for high school, intermediate school and middle school students.

The elementary schools and kindergarten classes likely will start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.

Pollock assured parents that busing will be an option for all-day kindergarten students once the board finalizes the calendar. All-day kindergarten students would ride the same bus as elementary school students, she said.

The district has not yet determined how many classes will be offered in the fall or at which schools the full-day option will be available. It depends mostly on which parts of the district have the most need, officials said. Based on the survey, it is likely Rosecrans Elementary School will have at least one all-day kindergarten classroom, Pollock said.

Jennifer Young, principal at Rosecrans, said she hopes the school will offer the all-day option. This is Young's first year as principal in Big Walnut schools -- and the first time she has ever seen only half-day kindergarten offered.

Young assured parents at the meeting that all-day kindergarten is a simple adjustment for their children.

"It looks like first grade or any other grade," she said. "It looks like school all day, just like anywhere else."

Young said all-day kindergartners would take breaks during the day, but would not fill the second half of the day with nap time or recess. Rather, they would practice reading or other skills, she said.

"It's a lot easier with our students in first through fourth grade because they have about a two-hour reading block, which sounds like a lot -- but that includes direct instruction and addressing small groups and every student," Young said. "That's very difficult when they are here for only two hours and 20 minutes a day."

The district should know in April which schools will have all-day kindergarten classrooms. Parents will be able to register their child for kindergarten, tour the schools and meet staff and faculty in the spring.

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