Full-Day Kindergarten in Summit Seen as Necessary to Meet Core Curriculum Standards, Provide Equal Educational Opportunity
Friday, October 12, 2012 • 6:21am
SUMMIT, NJ—The decision on the exact form and funding mechanism for full-day kindergarten in the Summit public schools is probably months away, but school officials believe the full-day sessions must come in order for the district to meet the new core curriculum standards and to provide equal access to educational advancement to all of the city’s children.
That was the message relayed at Thursday’s board of education meeting by members of the school body and by Summit Assistant Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazer as she outlined a comparison of the current half-day curriculum to what could be accomplished with a full-day program.
Some in the audience, however, had misgivings about the proposal and others wanted to wait and measure the financial impact on the city’s taxpayers before passing full judgment.
“Kicking the can down the road” in the face of a possible state mandate for full-day kindergarten in the future when rising interest rates might make the program much more costly was not an option according to board president, George Lucaci.
“We set a very high bar in Summit,” Lucaci added, saying the city’s schools, which are considered its jewel, would not remain so without full-day kindergarten.
Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker said it was his personal and professional belief that a full-day program is needed in Summit to provide equal educational opportunity for all children.
Responding to a question from resident, Kristen Pierotti, Glazer said about 20 percent of the first graders currently in the city’s schools require remedial support.
She also noted that not all of those students entered first grade after attending one of Summit’s primary centers—some of them came from other districts and some had no exposure to kindergarten-type programs at all before entering the city’s first grades.
Relaying the history of the proposal, Celia Colbert, chair of the board’s education committee, said a fee-based full-day program had been proposed in the spring of 2011. A subsequent survey of Summit residents, however, found that a fee-based system was not supported and many respondents wanted to know why Summit did not provide a full-day kindergarten program like many surrounding districts.
A board subcommittee then brought a recommendation for a full-day kindergarten to Parker and he approved pursuit of the idea, Colbert said.
In her presentation the assistant superintendent pointed out the core curriculum standards approved by 45 of the 50 states including New Jersey increased from about 10 to 23 the number of mathematics skills, for example, that children are expected to master by the time they finish kindergarten.
Among the skills listed, she said full-day kindergarten would increase reading workshop from 120 to 150 minutes a day, and math from 60 to 150 minutes.
Glazer added a full-day program would allow for 30 minutes of outdoor play that would enable teachers and aides to teach children in a structured way how to interact with other children and encourage such activities such as running and climbing.
Also, 40 minutes of student-planned choice time, she said, would enable students to learn more productively how to play, negotiate and solve social problems through role playing and sharing.
“Within a half-day program,” Glazer said, “the core curriculum standards may not be attainable for kindergarteners because the program does not allow the time for it. What cannot be done in a half day of kindergarten often must be pushed into the first grade, and that is not beneficial to all children.”
Mayor Ellen Dickson, however, was concerned that not all children would be able to make the transition to a full day of kindergarten study.
The assistant superintendent replied that 75 percent of the districts in the state and 50 percent of the districts in Summit’s socio-economic factor groups offer full-day programs and it has been found that, after a short time, students who previously could not adjust do “come along.”
Board member Anne Burton, referring to the full-day proposal, asked, “How much are we contributing to the Race to Nowhere with a highly structured program instead of just saying ‘go out and play’?”.
She said some children progress through kindergarten with an “age three” level of understanding while others go through with an “age seven” level. She felt the proposed program may not account for that gap and help close it as children progress to the higher grades.
Glazer replied the Summit schools are able to close the gap and account for the mental age differences.
Although Pierotti expressed some reservations about the advantages of a full-day program other residents were very supportive.
Tracy Luckner, a parent and PTO president at Jefferson School, said her son needed extra help in reading and a full-day program outside the Summit school system provided that help.
She added, however, that her daughter was in a wrap-around program but would benefit more from a full-day program where she did not have to change teachers in mid-day.
Maureen Alvidrez, President of the Washington School PTO, said she was impressed by the board of education committee’s reports on the topic and believed if Summit could benefit from a full-day program it should definitely institute one.
Although Summit Common Council President Richard Madden said he liked the ideas about the program presented by the board he wanted to know who would pay for it.
Madden suggested after the board has a more formal plan for the program that the school body and the council hold a joint meeting to discuss it.
Lucaci accepted Madden’s suggestion for a joint meeting of the two bodies.
On the matter of the program’s possible costs, board operations committee chair Edgar Mokuvos noted the $15 million figure that came out some time ago applied to the cost of both full-day kindergarten and universal pre-kindergarten.
The cost of full-day kindergarten, he said, probably would be much less.
The board also heard a presentation on long-range staffing and programming for the guidance department by John Schnedeker, director of the program.
Schnedeker pointed out the program’s strengths at the primary center, elementary and middle school and high school levels in bridging the achievement gap, combating bullying by helping students to become “empathetic bystanders” and intervening on behalf of victims, helping families become more involved in the guidance of their children and preparing Summit’s students to get accepted into the top-tier colleges and universities.
Two of the main ways of achieving these goals, he said, were the institution of a family advocacy program and bringing in college specialists to enhance the college recruiting process and freeing him to become more involved in programs outside the high school.