BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Full Day Kindergarten is no longer just an idea – “as many as 94 percent of all school districts in the state” offer some form of Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) option. Summit, Madison, Chatham, Scotch Plains and Mountainside all do said Interim Superintendent of Schools Richard Noonan.

He introduced a presentation on FDK at the March 14 school board meeting. To see the complete slide presentation, visit the district website here.

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No one should start making plans to send their child to FDK in Berkeley Heights in September, 2019. The board is considering holding a FDK pilot program for 20 children in each of two classes in the 2020-2021 school year and, possibly, implementing FDK for all Kindergarten students in the 2021-2022 school year. In the meantime, the state legislature is looking at making FDK mandatory. That would be a big change since New Jersey does not mandate Kindergarten except in 31 state-funded and lower-income districts and only requires parents to register children for school at age six.  

Later in the presentation, a slide showed that of the 593 school districts, 553 offer FDK programs, many of which are universal.  Business Administrator Donna Felezzola said forty districts offered only half day Kindergarten programs and that number is dwindling. Cranford started a parent-paid lottery program this year and Chatham will offer a parent-paid lottery program next year. Summit which had a lottery program, just announced it would begin universal FDK next year, she said.

 

Principal of Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center Annie Corley-Hand said in recent years there has been an emphasis on academics in Kindergarten, which has had a “profound effect on our Kindergarten.” The adoption of the Common Core standards, which was changed to the NJ Student Learning Standards, raised the standards and some of them even doubled from what they were in 2012.

Director of Special Services Michele Gardner referred to a slide that showed that a child in FDK received almost an additional half-year of instruction time than a child who attended half-day Kindergarten.  FDK provides 1,080 instructional hours a year, as compared to half day Kindergarten, which has 540 instructional hours a year.  

Early dismissals and delayed openings also adversely impact the half-day programs, and because of the academic standards established by the state for Kindergarten students, “we are finding we have less and less time to focus on some things that are very developmentally appropriate for your typically developing five- and six-year-old as well as your Kindergartner with disabilities,” Gardner said.

There is a lot more time in the “full day program is for social and emotional learning,” as well as math, literacy and project-based learning, she said.

Corley-Hand said “more time equals more instruction.”  Teachers in full day programs “tend to do things that we know, as early childhood educators, are appropriate for our students,” she said.

Some people are concerned about “third-grade fade out,” but that is because pre-K to third grade is a continuum, and a lot of researchers will study that area. “We are not going to find research that says that a child in full day Kindergarten will take more AP classes in high school. It just isn’t there,” Corley-Hand said.

Felezzola said the district is considering two options, “Option A – a Pilot Program,” with two full classes of 20 students each, with acceptance based on a lottery and tuition pro-rated to reflect the free part-time Kindergarten cost, that would be paid by the family. Costs to the school district for the FDK lottery program would include renovation costs, personnel and classroom supplies.

“Option B - Universal Full Day Kindergarten”  would have all Kindergarten eligible students  enrolled. Currently the district has six half-day Kindergarten classes -- three classrooms with three teachers. Based on first grade enrollment this year, the district projects there would need to be eight full day Kindergarten classes, which would require five additional classrooms, Felezzola said. The board would have to decide where the classes would be located, if there needs to be a grade-restructuring and, if so, how that would work. Since each Kindergarten classroom is required to have a bathroom, then any classroom designated as a Kindergarten classroom would need to have a bathroom added, if it doesn’t have one already.

Costs for the FDK would include classroom updates, personnel costs and initial classroom supplies the first year, and in future years classroom supplies, she said.

The Universal FDK costs would be incorporated into the 2020-2021 budget to be implemented in the 2021-2022 school year.

Board members had a number of questions, starting with Dr. Gerald Crisonino who asked if the administration was thinking of a “slow rollout, so you can get all the glitches out?”

Felezzola said they were talking about a “slow rollout.”

Noonan said he is a “huge proponent of full day Kindergarten” and helped roll out FDK programs in two districts, including Rumson, where the board included items necessary for FDK in a bond referendum which voters approved by a vote of 5 or 6 to 1.  The slow roll out program will allow the district to “take steps into the cost, staffing wise, for implementing Full Day Kindergarten,” Noonan said. 

He said he and the team see this as an “opportunity to rethink what we are doing, refocus all of our curriculum efforts, at least K-3.”

Crisonino questioned what would happen to those who could not afford to pay for the lottery program.

Felezzola said, Option A would have to follow “the guidelines for free and reduced policies, so we would use that as our income levels and make appropriate decisions based on that.”

Board Vice President Bill Cassano said FDK was on the agenda at the first board meeting he attended 19 years earlier. “It’s crazy that we don’t do this,” he said and suggested that the district should do at least do Option A as soon as possible.

Board member Helen Kirsch asked if there were five classrooms available.

Felezzola said the district didn’t have that in one building. They are looking at options, “different ways we can reconfigure this,” from moving Pre-K to another building or first grades back to elementary schools.

Kirsch expressed her concern that the district would move backwards to “art on the cart,” and other such programs that were eliminated.

Noonan said the district has “charged the architect with taking a look” at what would happen if Mary Kay became a Pre-K and K center, how that would work and what the cost would be.

Kirsch reminded the district administrations of “the expansion we are going to see in town,” and which could impact the school district.

Board Member Chris Reilly reminded Kirsch the board is “engaging a demographic study,” which is important.

Denis Smalley asked if there was a cost estimate.

Felezzola said it looks as though it might be possible to do Option A by only adding one bathroom. “To create one bathroom in one school would cost about $75,000,” from a construction standpoint. Then there would be the cost of staff and set up supplies for the classroom.

Corley-Hand said the legislature is considering mandating full day Kindergarten, but making it mandatory might mean the state will have to help with expenses.  It is not in the governor’s budget for 2020.

Reilly asked Board Member Dante Gioia how long Mountainside’s full day Kindergarten program had been in place and he replied, “As long as I’ve lived there.”

Corley-Hand replied, it started in “1999. I was hired as the fourth Kindergarten teacher there to fulfill the full day Kindergarten plan they had.”

Board President Reinstein asked Noonan if the administrative team needed some direction from the board or could the board provide some direction at the next meeting, after hearing from the public?

Noonan said the administrators did not expect the board to give them direction that evening.

The bulk of the input from residents was positive, but at least one woman said she did not think her child would have been able to deal with a full day program and questioned if that would be the only option were Option B adopted.