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Regents work group pitches mandatory full-day kindergarten

Regents work group pitches mandatory full-day kindergarten

Shenendehowa one of few districts in state that doesn't offer full-day kindergarten
Regents work group pitches mandatory full-day kindergarten
Hamilton Elementary kindergarten teacher Alissa Graham reads short story during orientation for kindergarten students in 2014.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

A New York State Board of Regents panel on Monday recommended lawmakers require full-day kindergarten in all school districts and lower the mandatory school age from 6 to 5.

The Regents' early childhood committee also proposed creating space for 2,000 more pre-kindergarten students, at a cost of $20 million, in 40 of the state’s highest-need districts, setting the stage to eventually offer pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-old children in the state.

The recommendations – 18 in all on topics ranging from screening young kids to strengthening the early childhood education workforce – came as part of a report from a Regents work group charged with studying the state’s patchwork early childhood system. The work group and other education officials called for better connecting pediatricians, childcare providers and educators who work with children from birth to 8 years old. The Board of Regents plans to vote to adopt the recommendations Tuesday.

“I can think of no better way to have better completions than to have stronger beginnings,” said Regent Lester Young, a leader of the committee, referring to the importance of early education on later outcomes like graduation.

For the Shenendehowa Central School District, the only district in the Capital Region that does not offer a full-day kindergarten program, details of any law mandating statewide full-day programs would be needed before commenting on how the district would implement the program.

“The devil’s in the details,” said district spokeswoman Kelly DeFeciani.

Necessary points of clarification, she said, include what funding would go to schools to help implement the program, as well as details on how long districts would have to get to full-day kindergarten for all students.

Shenendehowa offers six half-day kindergarten sessions at each of the district’s eight elementary schools. The district, which has a total of about 10,000 students, also offers an extended-day program that allows students to stay beyond the half-day program for supplemental instruction.

In the past, Shen has said the main barrier for providing a full-day kindergarten program has been finding the physical space for it, as opposed to funding. It is possible, district officials have said in the past, that a new school building would be needed, which could only be built if residents approve.

The early childhood recommendations touched on a variety of issues, including ways to improve screening for young kids and better share information between doctors and educators. The work group proposed $700,000 to begin the creation of a “comprehensive developmental screening process” for all children from birth to age 8, which would include an assessment of vision, hearing, physical and dental health, speech and language skills and more.

Some of the regents also emphasized the importance of working with pediatricians to gather data about children that can be helpful to early childhood educators.

“This is a big puzzle with a big gap in it,” Regent Catherine Collins, of Buffalo, said of strengthening communication between the health and education fields.

The proposal focuses on expanding, strengthening and diversifying the workforce in early childhood centers, preschools and other education settings for young children.

The proposal calls for a $2.5 million investment in improving the training of future early childhood educators, while following up with a broader effort to recruit and retain a diverse field of potential early childhood educators, a workforce that would better reflect the state's increasingly diverse student population.

Kassie Parisi contributed to this report.

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