Westfield Schools to Hold Off on Adding Full-Day Kindergarten

Mark Friedman, chair of the Westfield BOE's long-range planning committee (center), explains why the committee does not recommend creating a full-day kindergarten program now. Credits: Jackie Lieberman

WESTFIELD, NJ — After reviewing the results of its full-day kindergarten survey, the Westfield Board of Education’s long-range planning committee recommended Tuesday that the board not move forward with creating a full-day kindergarten program at Westfield Public Schools at this time.

“I’d like to thank the residents who responded to the survey,” committee chair Mark Friedman said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. “We received over 1,500 replies, and so many of them provided excellent insight into what people are thinking, regardless of which side of the discussion they support.”

In addition to the survey, board members also looked at the district’s facilities and found that they would need to make additions to two of the elementary schools, likely through floating a bond, and that they would need to add significant expense annually to support the hiring of new staff, Friedman said.

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Ninety percent of the school districts in New Jersey currently have a full-day kindergarten program, he noted.

“I think that it is important to note here that it is not our goal to simply stand still and not move our district forward with respect to the need for other options for our students,” Friedman said. “We are only making the decision to look for other alternatives that would not put a financial burden on the district and ultimately the residents of Westfield. We believe that with a new administration coming into Trenton in January and with the process to re-evaluate the tax base of our homes that it’s prudent to seek other options.”

Friedman said that Westfield has a very successful kindergarten wrap program.

“[Superintendent] Dr. Dolan and the administration will look at creative ways to perhaps expand that program,” he said. “As part of that process, we will look at other spaces in town that might be able to support the growth of the wrap program.”

Board President Gretchan Ohlig added that they recognized that Westfield is unique in that it is part of the 10 percent of New Jersey districts that do not offer full-day kindergarten.  

“I think, ultimately, part of the reason that the committee is making the recommendation that it’s making is the other ways in which Westfield is unique, and part of that is that our residents bear 89.3 percent of the funding. And because we’re considered a wealthy district we see very little from the state to supplement that,” Ohlig said. “So this board has always been very mindful. Our per-pupil cost is less than the state  average and we’re committed to investing our resources wisely in the best in the best teachers, administrators and counselors that we have, challenging curriculum and up-to-date technology and providing a safe environment for our students.”

One thing that the board heard repeatedly was “think outside the box,” Ohlig said.

“While clearly full-day is important to many parents, and that there’s an interest, we are trying to think outside the box to offer viable alternatives that don’t require us to raise taxes,” she said.

After hearing from residents, “What surprised me was how many people felt very strongly that a half-day kindergarten program was sufficient,” board member Amy Root added. “Certainly our half-day program in Westfield meets the state standards. Our kids are well-prepared. There may be a slight difference when kids start first grade between the kids who’ve attended a half-day program or full-day program, but my own children have borne it out and from what I’ve heard from our teachers, you pretty quickly don’t see a difference between the kids who attended half-day or full-day.”

The district's wrap program is not free, and parents who feel that the program is cost-prohibitive for them should reach out to the superintendent’s office, Root added.

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