During its April Work Session, the Methacton School Board heard from Superintendent Dr. David A. Zerbe about the concept of full-day kindergarten for students in the district, a plan that Zerbe would like to pilot in the 2014-15 school year for the first time.
After meeting with the district’s finance committee to discuss feasibility, Zerbe reported to the board under new business that he believes they can fit into the budget a program that would aid in the “success of early education.”
“We would need to decipher the steps we would need to take to implement a program,” said Zerbe. “We’ve discussed this with the principals at the elementary level to outline the necessary aspects, and in general it looks like it is possible to start the program with one-and-a-half teachers, and two aids.”
“The other school’s programs would not change,” said Zerbe. “We would need to determine the select students that would participate.”
To do so, Zerbe plans to rely on the early screening program already in place at the district’s schools. When a new kindergarten student is enrolled, a screening tests for abilities to determine the student’s readiness.
“The screening tests for different abilities with numbers, the alphabet, and writing,” said Mary Katona, curriculum, instruction, and assessment director for Methacton School District. “A score of tests are given at the screening, with a number of points given for each. We get a list, and in past years have used that to compile those that should participate in the summer Jump Start program.”
Jump Start is held a few days a week in the weeks leading up to the actual school year to better prepare the students that need extra guidance.
“We found it helped at the start of the school year, but would begin to slide off,” said Zerbe. Instead, he feels a full-day kindergarten program would provide stability for the full year for students not yet prepared for the challenges of the first year of school.
“There would be a threshold,” said Zerbe. “Only the students that qualify would attend.”
Zerbe added that if implemented in a timely manner, the district may be privy to special grants awarded by the state and federal governments.
“We could obtain a grant via a governmental proposal for $249,000 to implement this program,” said Zerbe.
While some school board members asked what other students would do, that did not qualify for the full-day program, Zerbe said their experience would not change.
“This is a small pool of 30 to 45 students,” he said. “I would consider this a pilot program, and it would not be long-term. We would have to make a qualitative analysis. This may not be the best solution.”
The public had strong words for Zerbe, once the Courtesy of the Floor was opened at the meeting’s end.
Joe Ferraro of Pinetree Road in Audubon said he had students that benefited from a program the district recently removed.
“I don’t know why we are reinventing the wheel here,” said Ferraro. “Jump Start is a band-aid at best.”
Ferraro, who mentioned his own sons utilized the program, recommended the board instead reinstate the Transitional First program.
“If you really want to help, rename it T-1 and do it the right way,” he told the board.
Much controversy surrounded a 2010-2011 midyear decision to eliminate the popular “Transitional First” program, which previously allowed determined children to need an extra year to do so between kindergarten and first grades.