BRIDGEWATER, NJ - In the midst of an evaluation of all programs in the district, Superintendent Russell Lazovick presented to the board of education findings regarding the option for full day kindergarten in the district, recognizing it would require doubling the number of classrooms and staff to accommodate projections of students in the coming years.
“There is no doubt that a full day program would benefit every student further,” he said. “Most of the research has to do with students who are underperforming, and we have to address issues earlier. There are critical skills that must be mastered by third grade.”
Lazovick said studies say students in full day kindergarten are more connected with school in the later years than those who are in a half day program
“In a full day program, students are less likely to need special services, but long term cognitive growth is not connected between half day versus full day, it is more how they are exposed and formative experiences,” he said.
Lazovick said the studies into the district has shown that there are differences between students in first grade after the half day program, and those who enter the district for the first time in first grade, but everything levels out in terms of scoring by third grade.
“At that point, they are all performing overall like their grade level peers,” he said. “One of the things we are thinking of asking when we do registration is what students did before grade one.”
Lazovick cited a number of benefits to full day kindergarten, including greater exposure to content areas, higher grades and GPA through the later grades, stronger reading and writing skills in later grades and higher achievement on assessments.
Based on surveys of stakeholders in the district, teachers say that with full day kindergarten they have more time to get to know students, students developed literacy skills faster and there is greater satisfaction with the overall schedule.
For parents, they believed full day kindergarten makes students better prepared for first grade, more comfortable with the school, more self-confident and more excited about the content.
But in addition to that, Lazovick said, the district has to be able to reasonably handle the change to full day kindergarten.
The current half day program, in 2017, had 414 kindergarten students, and the recent demographer report estimated a range of 392 students in 2018 and 382 students in 2022. Currently, he said, they use 14 classrooms for kindergarten.
If the district were to move to full day kindergarten, Lazovick said, the projection of students would be as high as 585 students. For 25 students per classroom, they would need 24 classrooms.
“But that is not ideal, so we would really need about 28 classrooms, and double the staff,” he said.
An initial investment to handle that, Lazovick said, would require $4 to $5 million in construction costs, in addition to $980,000 for additional staff plus contractual increases in the future.
“There would be increases to special education costs because we don’t currently service all students who are special needs in kindergarten,” he said. “And there will be more students coming through for materials and other items, so we are more than doubling the amount of materials.”
Lazovick said the move to full day kindergarten would require an increase in evaluations and administrator time; an increase in technology; the need for more professional development; an impact to transportation; and more.
“It is hard to say we can answer yes to the facilities and staffing,” he said. “There is clearly a significant difference between the half day and full day programs.”
In answer to a board member question about when they could feasibly bring full day kindergarten to the district if the decision was made to move forward, Lazovick said they would have to go to a referendum to get the money needed to do the construction and other improvements.
“We have to look at the schools and see how we are going to add the classrooms and present that to the community,” he said.
Lazovick said they are looking at a year-long process to get something that can be voted on in 2019, and then construction would take about a year-and-a-half to complete.