BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Don’t expect there to be a full day Kindergarten (FDK) offered in September 2019, but 2020 or later it could happen … or not.
Board President Doug Reinstein brought up the topic during “new business,” at the Thursday, Aug. 16, meeting of the Board of Education.
Reinstein acknowledged the board had talked about FDK in 2014, but said, “A lot has changed since then.” He suggested the board should take a comprehensive look at the issue, including:
1. How FDK would affect education and curriculum;
2. Its impact on special education programs;
3. Facilities issues – enrollment is down and there is room in the schools;
4. Financial cost to the district.
The board considered adding FDK in 2014, after having seen a presentation on FDK in July. In October 2014, Mary Kay McMillan Principal Anne Corley-Hand presented a report on the research that had been done since the July presentation. At that time, research indicated FDK was not an option offered by many schools in the I and J District Factor Groups, which are similar to the Berkeley Heights’ district.
Between added costs for staff, furniture and supplies to run a FDK, and the possibility of needing to pass a referendum to build an addition to the Mary Kay McMillan Early Childhood Center, the discussion seemed to have died.
Reinstein suggested the board “dust off the old report” and ask administrators to start researching the topics he listed and “challenge administrators to come back in January” and present the results of their investigation to the board.
Board Vice President Bill Cassano said he thought the investigation was a good idea, because the district shouldn’t be “caught flat footed” if the state decides to mandate full day kindergarten programs.
Mountainside board representative Jeanne Parker said she remembered the previous investigation indicated FDK did not seem to be favored by districts such as Berkeley Heights, but since that time a number of those types of districts have added FDK, most recently Madison.
Board member Denis Smalley asked if the district was working with a demographer, because in his neighborhood there are a lot of young, pre-school age children.
Superintendent Judith Rattner said the district does work with a demographer and cautioned “if the recommendation is to pursue” implementing FDK, it should be done in stages. She cautioned everyone that the investigation, even if it resulted in a positive recommendation to offer FDK, did not mean there would be FDK in September 2019.
Board Member Chris Reilly said offering FDK would met “the changing needs of our community … A lot of people want it,” however, they want it at a reasonable cost to the district and taxpayers.
The superintendent said there are currently six half-day sessions of Kindergarten, which means there would need to be a total of six rooms available for FDK, assuming the enrollment numbers stay the same.
Reilly said, that was unlikely, because many residents enroll their children in private full day kindergarten programs, so “We would have more children if it was offered.”
Board member Dr. Gerard Crisonino predicted all districts will be mandated and “we should be ready for it.”
The administrators who do the study will report back to the board in January.