Last spring the Board of Education asked the school administrative to review the viability of bringing full-day kindergarten to the Madison schools. In a presentation to the board last week, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice said the administration is recommending implementation of a full-day kindergarten program for the 2013-2014 school year.
The recommendation would bring kindergarten classes into each of the elementary schools-a change from the present half-day kindergarten model now centralized at Jeffrey School-and would add projected costs of $265,194 to the education budget.
Scarice told the school board that the review was a comprehensive, six-month process and reminded members that a significant number of young children in Madison already attend pre-school programs and a significant number go to another program each weekday after attending their present half-day kindergarten session.
He then told the board, "It's not just kindergarten any longer." Kindergarten has evolved over the past 10 years. "Profound changes have taken effect. Academics have crept down into kindergarten, squeezing out the social and emotional development part of 'how we do school.'"
This is true across the state, Scarice added. It is not just a Madison phenomenon.
The superintendent said the recommendation comes "mindful of the difficult economic times."
In implementing full-day kindergarten, Scarice said, "We will not add one ounce of academic curriculum. We will teach what we teach now within the longer day. There will be time for the social and emotional development young children need."
That includes discovery, exploration, and active learning, including structured and unstructured play.
"If there is one message that I want to convey tonight, it is that we have lost our moorings when it comes to educating the whole child," he said, because of the present emphasis on testing and core courses.
Development of the whole child is a core belief in implementing full-day kindergarten.
Why look at a full-day schedule? The administration believes the additional hours provide opportunities to provide a better balance of active and quiet periods to support an appropriate environment for early childhood learning, to provide meaningful socialization experiences, and to experience curriculum through appropriate pacing.
The administration's recommendation also returns kindergarten students to neighborhood elementary schools.
In today's half-day kindergarten program, there are 147 students divided between four morning and four afternoon sessions, for a total of eight classes. Under a scenario based on student projections for the 2013-2014 school year, there would be seven classes with a total of 127 students distributed through the town's three elementary schools. Island Avenue School would have two kindergarten classes, Jeffrey School three classes, and Ryerson School two classes.
Scarice urged the school board to consider the full day kindergarten program as a budget assumption for the district's upcoming budget deliberations. Projected additional costs are approximately $265,000.
Board member John Dean responded, "I think full-day kindergarten is a good idea, but this represents a quarter of a million dollars and probably a tax increase. Can you go back into the budget and perhaps find equal savings there? If we can work that number, then perhaps everyone can support it."
The economy is showing higher unemployment numbers locally and house prices are dropping, Dean said.
"I see no need to rush to all day kindergarten," Dean said. "Things are tight now."
Scarice said he believed the board should consider this recommendation "in the context of the full budget."
The school board will discuss this recommendation further at its Tuesday, Nov. 13 meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the Hammonasset Room at Madison Town Campus.