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Ledyard - The Board of Education unanimously approved a proposal Wednesday night for an all-day kindergarten program, taking the first step in implementing a program that would begin next fall.
With the phasing in of new math and English language arts curriculums to align with the Common Core State Standards - adopted by Connecticut in 2010 along with more than 40 other states, according to the educational nonprofit organization ASCD - Superintendent Michael Graner said a number of changes need to be made in order to keep pace with more rigorous academic requirements.
That includes extending Ledyard's three elementary schools' half-day kindergarten program, where teachers have already begun teaching from new math and reading curriculums, to a full-day program.
Graner said with the half-day schedule in place now, kindergartners in Ledyard have only about two hours and 20 minutes of instructional time.
"The first thing we realized was, we really need a longer day," he said. "We can't do it all."
This fall, the Board of Education set the goal of extending the kindergarten program to a full day and voted a $136,909 proposal through at its meeting Wednesday.
The cost of math and reading materials would be included in the current fiscal year's budget, while the remaining $73,990 - paying in part for additional teachers and paraprofessionals with $80,361 of Title I federal grant money - will go to the school board's finance committee to include in the budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. An additional $114,000 would be saved in eliminating the need for mid-day bus service, which drops off the morning kindergartners and picks up the afternoon students.
The school board's budget proposal will then go to Mayor John Rodolico and the Town Council for approval ahead of the budget referendum in May.
While board member Thomas Mallone said taxpayers may balk at seeing an additional $73,990 in the board's budget at May's budget referendum, other members emphasized the need to work the money in to ensure the program's place in the school system.
"I look at the vote tonight for this as a financial commitment," said board member Gordon Strickland. "In saying yes to this, we do look at it as a priority that we will protect."
All-day kindergarten is one of two big changes driven by the arrival of Common Core that Graner said he is looking to make. The board is also considering moving sixth-grade classes from the three elementary schools up to Ledyard Middle School, consolidating the class and allowing for the eight sixth-grade teachers each to specialize in one academic subject.
As a stopgap, Graner said the students would move to the Juliet W. Long School adjacent to the middle school next fall, creating a sixth-grade "annex" that would operate as part of the middle school.
A larger renovation of the middle school to accommodate the influx of students is also a possibility pending the move's approval. Options include simply tacking on a new sixth-grade wing to the middle school or both constructing the new wing and entirely renovating the aging building, which has no cafeteria or kitchen, is not up to modern building safety standards and lacks interior walls in most classrooms.
A public presentation on the sixth-grade proposal is scheduled for the Jan. 3 Board of Education meeting.