Summit Board of Education Mulls Specifics of Fee-Based, Full-Day Kindergarten

October 11, 2013 at 7:21 AM

SUMMIT, NJ - Free full-day kindergarten, to be offered to all families in Summit, received a mixed reception when it was presented several months ago. The propsed program was part of a $20 million-plus overall renovation plan for the city's schools, which includes the construction of additions to existing educational facilities.

That proposal was ultimately voted down by the city's board of school estimate.  However, one of the alternatives floated at that time was a fee-based program with a tuition large enough to possibly cover scholarships for those children whose families could not afford the full tuition.

The school board's education committee, at Thursday evening's workshop session, endorsed a fee-based program with a tuition estimated at $5,500 per student with the amount needed to be raised to allow for those whose families could not afford the full freight figured into the per-pupil cost.

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Education committee chairman Edgar Mokuvos said the program could make use of existing facilities with a lottery system to select students.

Operations committee chairman David Dietze added that the “worst-case scenario,” with students from other kindergarten programs and from the city's current half-day program attending, would cost an estimated $300,000 and fees covering all but $130,000 of that cost.

Dietze noted, however, that the more likely scenario would be that the program would attract students from the district's own current half-day program at a total cost of about $150,000. The program would accommodate 40 students in two classes, and an estimated 25 percent of the total would be non-tuition-paying students who would be recipients of federal free-or-reduced-price lunch programs.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Business Louis Pepe said the tuition estimates were based on fees charged by the Madison public school-run program and the fullday kindergarten program operated by The Connection of Summit.  He estimated about $4,150 of the total tuition would cover the cost for each pupil and the remainder could be used to pay for those whose families could not include the tuition.

“We felt it was worth the risk to we could offer full day kindergarten to all students in Summit,” Dietze said.

However, board member James Freeman was hesitant about the proposal saying that many people in the community felt there would be a pilot program with no school district cost attached to it.  He suggested the program be marketed to see how many parents would be interested before developing a full program.

Board Vice-President Celia Colbert replied that the proposed program would be a “limited offering” that would give the board a chance to demonstrate to the community whether or not a fullday program would have beneficial educational effects in the later academic careers of the students.

Dietze added that the district has space even beyond the two classrooms that would be used for the program, and there was no harm in allowing those who could afford the program to support it.  In addition, he said, the proposal would not harm existing kindergarten programs sponsored by church and community groups. This was one of the concerns raised when the free fullday program was proposed.

While Freeman said there was a general skepticism whether a successful high school program was necessarily the result of a full day kindergarten program, board member Katherine Kalin said there were many studies which proved that the earlier a child's education began the better the results.

Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker also said that current district figures show only about 10 percent of students in each grade level are eligible for the free-or-reduced lunch program. This thus would reduce the cost of providing for fullday kindergarten students unable to pay tuition even below the education committee projections, he noted.

When it came time for public comment on the proposal, Second Ward Democratic council candidate Michael Vernotico commended the board for pursuing the idea.

He said he had spoken to many people in the city, and there was more a feeling of non-support of the fullday program rather than opposition to it because residents thought it would be competing for construction dollars with facilities needed in the upper grades.

The proposed program, Vernotico said, would be particularly useful to younger families moving into Summit with three-and-four-year-old children.  These families, he noted, did not have the organizational connections of more established families.

On another matter, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazer explained the implementation of the state student growth objectives program in the city's schools.

She noted that, through the program, school officials would determine 15 percent of a teacher's rating under the state's new teacher evaluation program and principals would also be evaluated on their schools' performance under the objectives.

The objectives are aligned with the New Jersey and national core curriculum standards programs.

Teachers, she said, would develop student goals for achievement based on past performance of previous classes and said measurable guidelines about how far they wanted their classes to progress.  This year's goals, which have to be approved by each teacher's supervisor and principal, have to be certified to the state by Nov. 15.

As an example of a student growth objective, according to the superintendent, would be for 80 percent of the students to show a specific level of progress in standardized reading assessments.

After the growth objectives are decided, she noted, a teacher would be rated exceptional if 90 to 100 percent of his or her students exceeded the objective, achieving the full objective if she had considerable impact and 75 to 89 percent of the students met the objective, partial if the teacher had only some impact and most students did not meet the objective and insufficient if his or her students fell far short of the objective.

District director of human resources Kenneth Shulack said if a teacher's full evaluation, of which the student growth objectives only count for 15 percent, along with evaluations by school superiors and principals falls to meet satisfactory levels in two successive years a tenure charge could be initiated by the teacher's district.

Shulack noted that, unlike in the past, the full tenure procedure would last only 90 days and, during that time, teachers falling in the unsatisfactory range would be evaluated by a state education department administrative official who would determine what action would be taken against the teacher.

Also, whereas in the past the teacher and his or her union would be permitted to claim in court that the district had not fairly evaluated them based on testimony from the teacher and his or her superiors, under the new administrative procedure if the district properly followed its own procedures in making an evaluation it could be determined to have acted correctly in ruling against the teacher.

Kalin also reported her committee would be working with Douglas Orr, the district's technology officer, to upgrade the district's website by improving navigation, cleaning up the site to provide for a more effective search function and possibly providing an online registration form on which parents could sign up students electronically.

Colbert, in her policy committee report, said the board would not, as requested last month by Lincoln-Hubbard School parents, require students to wear uniforms at the school. She noted the board currently had more pressing issues and could not act on the request.

In a presentation at the meeting, girl scouts who assisted in afterschool programs in the district elementary schools explained how they had worked with their former teachers in instructing younger students.

The girl scouts, who used the program to attain their Silver Awards, were led by Wafa Esposito. The scouts were Katie Bochan, Amanda Michaels, Sydney Benevento and Leila Esposito.

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