A task force made up of district administrators, teachers and parents recommends the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District implement full-day kindergarten this fall, citing research that suggests the longer day better prepares youngsters for school.
The committee, headed by Assistant Superintendent Rick Evans, made its recommendations to the Board of Education Tuesday night. Superintendent Patrick McGrath plans to make his own recommendation to the board later this week as part of a larger budget discussion after the state budget is passed.
A copy of the task force recommendations is available at the Around Saratoga blog.
No date has been set for a board vote on the kindergarten issue. The board will adopt a district budget for the 2013-14 school year April 16.
Task force members also suggest the district ease the transition by starting the year with a half-day program. Students could start the full-day program as early as Oct. 15 or wait as late as Dec. 2.
“We spent a lot of time talking about ways that we could offer a transitional option,” said Kris Gregory, a kindergarten teacher at Francis L. Stevens Elementary School.
Parents — both Burnt Hills parents and those cited in research from other school districts — overwhelmingly prefer full-day kindergarten, the task force reported.
Locally, two separate gauges of public opinion showed that the majority of district parents favor full-day kindergarten: 66 percent of parents of new kindergartners said they wanted a full-day program for their children at this year’s orientation, and 70 percent of community members said in a survey on the district’s website that BH-BL should move to full-day kindergarten.
The district is one of the few in the area that has a half-day program, though the district does offer an extended-day program for students who need extra help.
Statewide, 95 percent of kindergartners attend a full-day program, the report states.
The current half-day program allows for 21⁄2 hours a day of instructional time, and teachers say that’s not enough time to adequately teach the curriculum, leaving them and students feeling rushed.
Board members said they hoped additional time in the day could be used for more than just studying the state standards.
“Kids need to move. Especially boys; they need to move their bodies,” Vice President Lee-Ann Mertzlufft said.
And President Elizabeth Herkenham said the time should let students explore topics for which they show a budding passion, such as animals or science.
At least in the short term, the change would actually save the district money even though it would require hiring the equivalent of 31⁄2 full-time teachers. Not having to make midday bus runs and being able to reduce one teacher assistant position would net a $8,924 savings, the report says.
Also, the first year of a full-day kindergarten program, the district would get a $700,000 one-time boost in state aid. But after that, it would get docked in transportation aid, starting at $125,000 and increasing each year, because of fewer bus runs.
In the long term, board member James Maughan said, any additional program potentially takes away from an opportunity to do something else.
“This is going to direct resources in a certain area,” Maughan said. “The question I have is, is this allocation of greater benefit to our students than, say, putting two [academic intervention] specialists in the middle school, or a full-time security guard, or smaller third-grade classes?”
Then again, other areas, like helping students with learning disabilities, often get priority, pointed out Kimberly Ireland, a mother of two children, including a 4-year-old.
“Maybe it’s kindergarten’s turn to receive some of the funding or attention,” she said.