Norwich expands full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools in the city

Norwich - The public school system will expand full-day kindergarten to all seven city elementary schools next month but will not have enough spots to serve all students expected to enter kindergarten when school starts Aug. 28.

The Board of Education budget committee this month asked that restoring full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools be made a priority in staffing decisions despite a nearly flat city budget. Norwich had full-day kindergarten for only a few years and dropped it several years ago in budget cuts.

Superintendent Abby Dolliver said Thursday that administrators have worked out a plan to offer at least one full-day kindergarten classroom in all elementary schools, but schools with limited staffing and space will use a lottery system to allocate spots.

The school system last year used the state Network School reform grant to bring two classes of full-day kindergarten to the John B. Stanton School. This year, subject to state Department of Education approval, Dolliver plans to use the city's $2.3 million state Alliance District reform grant to bring two full-day kindergarten classes each to Uncas and Wequonnoc elementary schools.

That would leave Samuel Huntington, Thomas Mahan, John M. Moriarty and Veterans' Memorial schools to rely on city school budget funding for kindergarten. In those schools, Dolliver plans to offer one full-day kindergarten class and one or two half-day kindergarten classes, depending on enrollment.

"We don't know the breakdown yet," Dolliver said, "because a lot of families don't sign up until the first day of school."

The school system had 377 kindergarten students in the 2012-13 school year.

Kindergarten enrollment is open now, and Dolliver expects all full-day kindergarten classes to fill up quickly. She has asked officials at LEARN, the region's educational services agency, to oversee a lottery for the slots. The enrollment deadline for the lottery will be Aug. 14.

Space and funding have been the main issues in expanding full-day kindergarten, Dolliver said. Board of Education member Jesshua Ballaro insisted at the last budget committee meeting that full-day kindergarten be added before the board reached final decisions on budget cuts and staffing. Ballaro suggested that the two popular school resource police officers at the two middle schools be cut to provide the funding.

"Excellent," Ballaro said after learning of the expansion of full-day kindergarten. "I'm sure everybody will be pleased. We need to make that a priority in the budget."

Ballaro said the long-term effects of full-day kindergarten will be positive. Before the first year of full-day kindergarten ended, students at Stanton were reading at the first-grade level, school officials said.

"It makes them better prepared," Ballaro said.

Dolliver said the new plan would use existing staffing - except where state grant money would pay for additional kindergarten teachers - and classrooms. Space becomes a problem, because morning and afternoon sessions with 20 students each share one classroom, but full-day sessions would need two classrooms.

Full-day classes at Stanton had 30 students each, and classroom assistants worked in each class. Ideal class size for kindergarten would be high teens to 20 students, Dolliver said.

If some classes are exceedingly large, Dolliver said the school system might be able to offer parents a choice of sending their child to a different school with a smaller class, but she expects all the full-day classes to fill up.

c.bessette@theday.com

To enroll students

Families wishing to enroll students for either full-day or half-day kindergarten can call the school central office at (860) 823-4245. The deadline for the lottery will be Aug. 14, and families will be notified of results Aug. 15.

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