Summit considers school expansion, full-day kindergarten

The Summit School district is considering full-day kindergarten.
The Summit School district is considering full-day kindergarten.

SUMMIT — Although the board of education has spent considerable time examing the merits of a full-day kindergarten, they still have a way to go before it gets the stamp of approval.

In late January the school board held a town hall meeting at Jefferson Primary Center for residents to hear more about what a full-day kindergarten entailed and voice their opinion on the topic.

School Business Administrator Louis Pepe said at the meeting that the board had a “holistic approach” when assessing facility requirements and needs for such a program, but expanding two elementary schools to facilitate a full-day kindergarten program was not the only project they are focusing on.

Some of the top issues facing the school board, he said, included redesigning existing space to accommodate classes that continue to grow in size, upgrading science labs and increasing security at all schools. Pepe explained these particular issues are part of a five-year plan, which continues to evolve. A full-day kindergarten is also something that is under serious consideration.

But Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker mentioned that although the school district is on its way to financing these projects, the board still has to consider the facilities the district has available and the costs of renovation.

For instance, Pepe explained that if the district undertook renovation of Jefferson and Wilson Elementary schools to accommodate an all-day kindergarten, it could cost $10.3 million, or a $66.17 tax increase for the average resident with a house assessed at $410,000.

The district would also have to hire nine additional teachers, eight aides, two and a half specialists and additional custodians. All tallied that would mean an increase in the district budget of $1,089,298.

Broken down, the school district would have to spend $2.6 million expanding Wilson school. That number included adding two classrooms and a warming kitchen, or an additional 3,500 square feet to the school.
Jefferson school would require $7.7 million in renovations to add five classrooms, expand the cafeteria, reception and office area, or the addition of 7,375 square feet.

The process of approving such changes to the schools is not just up to the school board. If they do decide this is a good move for the district, the Board of School Estimate must then give their approval. According to Pepe, the full-day kindergarten issue is expected to be brought before the Board of School Estimate in April.

Assistant Superintendent Julie Glazer noted that a full-day kindergarten will give students and teachers double instructional time to focus on science, math, social studies and development of language skills. Students also would be able to focus more on social skills, while teachers have more time to focus on student strengths and weaknesses and better prepare their charges for the first grade.

Another panelist, Felix Gil of Summit’s Primary Centers, said a full-day kindergarten is better because it allows for direct individual work, more time for music and art and a smaller student-to-teacher ratio.

That was proven when district officials said classroom size would go from 40 children in the half-day program to 20 students in a full-day kindergarten.

Gil also pointed out that students coming into kindergarten arrive on different learning levels. A full-day program, he added, would standardize the kindergarten experience.

One district kindergarten teacher was all for moving to a full-day program because she felt it was difficult to fit all the required curriculum into a half-day program.

Another kindergarten teacher in the district, Jennifer Schwarzenbeck, said students come into kindergarten on different learning levels because outside programs are all so different. She believed that if a full-day kindergarten was initiated, students would have a seamless transition to first grade.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, a full-day program offers a more relaxed atmosphere and more opportunities for child-centered, creative activities, as well as more avenues for developing social skills.

On the other hand, they also argued that half-day kindergarten also can provide high quality educational and social experience. Others felt that children’s shorter attention span and interest level is more suited to a half-day program.