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We’re live at the Hopewell Valley Regional School District school board meeting where it is expected that the board and Superintendent Dr. Smith will be addressing full day kindergarten. Check here and refresh frequently.

(Reorganization: 3 new/returning members – swearing in. Lisa Wolff will serve as HVRSD board president and Leigh Ann Peterson as board vice president)

Report of the Superintendant Dr. Thomas Smith: began with acknowledging the efforts of the board and Board President Lisa Wolff thanked the families of the board members.

“With the start of the new year and a continuing discussion of the future planning committee, there were 3 recommendations made including redistricting and full day kindergarten. What I’d like to do it run through a presentation for the board to begin the conversation to answer questions about balancing the needs of the community,” said Dr. Smith.

Presentation re: pilot of full day k for 2015

Dr. Smith has been contacted by a number of parents who would like full day kindergarten and those who would like half day and then community members who want to maintain the status quo and reduce the budget to reflect the decreasing enrollment (talked about the costs of teachers and materials to run programs)

Success of the existing program: providing an excellent foundation for first grade, exposing students to special area programs. Identified the lack of “down time” in school. Noted that locally there are 2 other districts (West Windsor and Montgomery) who have 1/2 day programs.

Transitioning kindergarten extension program to a full-day program: increasing instructional time/academic concepts. This would be one dedicated teacher and paraprofessional. It would be a morph of the extension and kindergarten program that would be part of the transition to a full-day program.

“For 50 years there was only 1/2 day kindergarten and then in 2010 extension was offered. going forward, the district wants to morph this to a full-day kindergarten option for those who are interested,” said Smith. “This is an evolution.”

If those who do not want full day, the current program at 1/2 day program will still develop skills for first grade and there is already typically an 8% increase from kindergarten to first grade (students are either not going to kindergarten or are going to private schools). “First grade teachers ‘take students where they are’ so it is not a detriment for parents who do not want full-day kindergarten.”

Cost concerns: No student will be turned away based on need. Financial assistance will be available for those who cannot afford the program.

Budgetary implications: reduction of revenue from kindergarten, district is unable to realize savings from staff reductions, teaching staff and paraprofessionals will be paid a district rate for the full-day program.

What is needed to expand full-day kindergarten? 1) revise the curriculum, 2) schedule additional specials, 3) hire new staff (6 new teachers and 6 new paraprofessionals based on current projections = somewhere in the $400,000+ depending on the level of the teacher)

Can the pilot balance all interests? The district says that the transitioning extension to full day K program keeps the costs the same to the parents, allows parents to send kids only 1/2 day if they want, etc.

Next steps: Alert parents immediately, alert staff to complete their preparations, budget and order needed supplies, monitor interest and participation.

Floor open to board members:

Bruce Gunther: “As a retired educator for 30 years, I am impressed with the quality of instruction in the classrooms. The instruction and behavior of the students and professionals, I am proud to be a resident of this community and proud to be on this board to support the teachers, schools and administrators. There was no question I had in any of the programs. They were outstanding.

Gorden Lewis: Question about pricing. Dr. Smith says that the cost is the same. Lewis thinks this is more value for the money. Dr. Smith says that the fee does not cover the cost of the program — doesn’t have the exact figures yet b/c they do not have the numbers yet.

Dollard: The additional staff could be offset by economies in the district? Dr. Smith says yes.

Sawicki: These are separate classrooms, right?

Smith: Yes. Not sure about the interest yet. Some schools have bought into a full day program and others not. This is not clear until registration is through.

Sawicki: wants to know the difference in a schedule of 1/2 vs. full day kindergarten.

Smith: increased instructional time, time for specials, socialization, language arts literacy, science, free play, choice play, etc. Attention spans are short at this age so it is more of these elements and can be return to some of what has happened earlier in the day.

Lewis: Spoke of the risk of over structure and the inevitable move to transform kindergarten to a “pre-first-grade.” Wants a clarification basically on the position on how kindergarten fits in and what the state is thinking.

Christine Laquindara (Assistant Superintendant): the free play/choice play is important and the continuity with the same teacher makes it more efficient. It creates a nice balance and it is up to the district to maintain the free choice play rather than the heavy academics.

Wolff: Anticipates the question re: if someone choses to stay with 1/2 day, what are they losing and are they at a disadvantage compared to those in full day?

Smith: The current program is a success. Parents will make a choice. If they want the full day program, they will. We are fortunate to be a community of highly educated and informed parents who do things with their children outside the program. It isn’t a detriment to remain with the 1/2 day program (just as it isn’t a detriment to the other 2 1/2 day districts). What you DO get moving to full-day kindergarten is additional time. It isn’t babysitting. It is an academic program with free play and other options for students.

Peterson: Would have loved this option for her current kindergartener. Wants to know how the district plans to let people know about the program especially for those whose oldest children are attending kindergarten.

Smith talked about the media outlets and a thanks to MercerMe! 😉 Also spoke about reaching out to Moms Clubs, preschools and social media.

Sawicki: Wants to know if there will be out-of-district hiring.

Smith: Based on enrollment, there will be a staff reduction. The hope is to shift positions to kindergarten to those who want/have skill for teaching kindergarten.

McClurg-Dolby: spoke about her daughter’s experience to participate in extension – it was positive and less expensive than what she had to opt for with her older children.

Public Comment:

Stephanie Barez: Has a kindergarten and 2nd grader and then also a 15 month old. Lives in the district. Concerned with making sure that academics are balanced with socialization and creativity. That expression of “all I needed to learn, I learned in kindergarten” is true. Values the programing inside and outside the classroom. Found that what is missing is the balance of academics and arts. Loves that the district is trying to please everyone and that is a difficult position. But wants to understand what districts that have done it the way that is being proposed. Also thinks there will be a disparity between 1/2 day and full day education.

Kari Pashman: Has a 2nd grade child and another child starting kindergarten in the fall. Social worker and in the mental health field for children/adolescence. Very interested in the whole child. Kindergarten should be an all-encompassing experience to get lots of wonderful things. Spoke about the difficulty compressing the day into 1/2 day kindergarten. Main concerns 1) socio-economic: $4000 is a lot of strain on people’s budget even if they don’t qualify for financial need, and 2) can say that the teachers “take the children as they are” but the children in extension were heads above the peers. Also thanks the district/board.

Jaclyn Petrin: Has a child in 1st grade who did extension and another child who is going to kindergarten next year. Enjoyed having child in the extension program. Child was one of 5 children in the extension. Question about the the cap of students especially with the $400/month fee.

Nancy Andreski: Children did not do the extension and was happy with the 1/2 day program. Would like this to happen with her child going to kindergarten next year. Concerned that she cannot justify $400/month but is concerned about what her child will be missing out on and also wants to know whether the district will guarantee that her child will go to the local elementary school she is currently districted to attend.

Debbie Hartman: Child will be going to kindergarten and is currently in special ed. Wants to know how special ed will work with full day program.

Mary Rinaldi: Wants to know what attributes to the district in the area b/c she moved to the area for the schools.

Alison Emmer: Just moved to the area b/c of the school system; child is in extension and enjoys the benefits. Concerned that schools ordinarily pride placement of students/teachers on a good fit rather than when they are simply paying for the program.

Kate Elliott: Talked about how the standards and curriculum has changed drastically with the adoption of the common core; The program is now different by necessity and it is more rigorous. See that it is a problem to ask teachers to fit so much into a very short day and thinks that the love of school is being lost in all the heavy academia. Concerns about class size, redistricting for particular students, and $400 is a hardship.

Jackie Yadamiec: talked about experience about being home/not working full time and therefore cannot justify $400 however was taken aback about the conflict about a full-day program that if many of the other students are participating.

Parent from Hopewell Grant: Thinks the program is good but comes at a cost and is concerned that there are some who cannot qualify for financial aid but would find the cost onerous.

Public comment closed.

Questions Answered.

Comparable programs: Has been in conversion with other districts on how this type of program works. Right now talking about options for next year, it is status quo = kindergarten and kindergarten extension as an option. This is a proposal to the board right now. (The cost for the other district’s program is $7000/year)

Financial need: the district has worked with parents who might not have qualified for particular aid and they have worked with those families and would continue to do the same.

Balancing the academics/enrichment: Smith says that this program will offer this

Student cap: class sizes are in the low 20s and in kindergarten also have paraprofessional so they are kept around that; ran into a problem at Toll Gate this year with kindergarten extension about whether the children would be split to be bused to another school/building to split classes but felt that it wasn’t a good option at the time; Typically kindergarten extension is between 18-20 and all-day kindergarten would be within those parameters – the technical term is “productivical class sizes.”

State mandate: There was no space for full day kindergarten and the state mandates don’t offset the costs. The state is getting push-back from districts who are unable to provide (it is an ‘unfunded mandate’). If it occurred, the district would comply within parameters of the existing budget… somehow.

Declining enrollment: check the website docs

Special education: collaborative … where a special education and general education teacher in the classroom for a majority of the day. This is still in the planning.

Whether 1/2 day will stay at the local school: no answer now and this is demand based. No guarantee.

Sawacki wants to know whether there is a way that a 1/2 day kindergarten class could participate in the existing program and then leave. Wolff says that they would be separate b/c the curriculum is treated differently in 1/2 vs. full day.

<<dissatisfaction from the group>>

With regard to those who do not qualify for financial aid but find it a hardship and interested in a full day program, Wolff wants to know what the district would do to address those needs.  Smith says that there are situations throughout the district that have been able to be helped even if they don’t meet the need specifically. Smith feels strongly in the program and doesn’t want to turn people away.

Lewis wants to know whether there could be a tiered approach. to the middle area — certain percentages of payment. Smith says that this is something that can be looked at but doesn’t want to make people produce documents about how much they make to qualify for the tiered.

Disparity between programs — if this new program will be richer than the extension, how will this disparity translate into the classroom?  Smith says that there are people who chose not to send their kids to kindergarten and, on the other than, some children come to kindergarten as full readers. The teachers have to address these disparities. Smith says that he is trying to balance all these competing interests (and talked about the emails he have received ranging from positive to nasty)… The district is trying to balance everyone’s interest and the full-day program is a conscious choice. For those who can’t afford it, should contact the district. And for those who do not want a full-day program, they have that option.

Gunther talked about historically the role of kindergarten and expressed that parents who want to have their children at home shouldn’t be discounted — it can be far superior than what a school can offer. Wants to know whether there is material to reinforce or extend that was done in the 1/2 day. Smith says yes and home schooling families. Lewis talked about how well the US scores on critical thinking and innovation.

Wolff talked about the necessity to send her son to private full-day kindergarten that ended up not being as positive experience as she hoped. Talked about the extra reading help her son received who now takes AP courses in high school. Not every child might be ready for heavy academics and full day. Tells the story because her point is that regardless of where you start in kindergarten, the first grade teachers will have to meet students where they are and there is no guarantee that your children will read or meet certain standards even if they go full day.

Common core requirements/kindergarten more rigorous: Smith says that the goal is for kids to love school regardless of whether it is full day or 1/2 day. It is easy to blame common core for a lot of things. Part of the change in curriculum is a response to the children who are coming to school — like whether the class spends a lot of time on the alphabet. Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be — it is the evolution of the program. School has become more rigorous on all levels whether we like it or not…

Public Comment (again):

Qin: Thanked the board for the full-day kindergarten even though his children missed the opportunity for it. There are many working families in the areas who have to spend a lot money on private kindergarten and would have saved his family a lot of money. For those parents who do not use full-day kindergarten, wants to know whether there are opportunities to experience full-day kindergarten on an occasional basis.

Jill Young: Has 3 children, 2 of whom participate in the extension and then another child who will go to kindergarten in 2016. Thinks this program might create more problems than anticipated. Wants to know whether there is any discussion whether full day kindergarten is totally off the table and also whether the pilot program is indefinite or just one year.

Alison Emmer: Thought the private program her daughter was in was too academic which is why she put her child into the extension. She wants to remind people that the full-day kindergarten is for full day to allow for time to play not all day academics. Thinks there is a lack of consistency in the extension with teachers. Doesn’t think it should cost $4000.

Berez: Values creativity and says that children are known for expansionist thinking — and worries that there is no time to breathe and grow/develop. Agrees what Emmer was saying — doesn’t want to pack in academics but just wants room to breathe. As for the common core, thinks there are lots of good elements but is worried about the mathematics.

Pashman: Talked about Nancy and Jackie’s concerns. There is a mommy-guilt aspect. This is a wealthy township and most of us are affording to live in Hopewell b/c of the schools, land, open space. There are moms, who are highly educated, made an educated choice to make children the priority but is concerned that the choice not to spend the $4000 could be wrong… but there is no way that any of us are going to qualify for financial help. “The bulk of people I know are making a really nice living. I just wanted you to know that it is a choice to go full or 1/2 — to spend the $4000 or not.

Elliott: Says that what Pashman is trying to say is that the people who don’t opt for $4000 is b/c they shouldn’t apply for financial aid but they also can’t budget it. Spreading the curriculum opt is the way to go —  the curriculum is too much to cram into the 2 1/2 hours. Worried about the legality of the proposition b/c there is a potential unequal system — one curriculum you have to pay for and they are different. Also talked about her son who loved kindergarten. Wants all the kids to have that amount of time to make school fun.

Trisha Simpson: Wants to know what percentage of schools in NJ have no fee full-day kindergarten. Wants to know where the district is in comparison to the rest of the state.

Questions Answered (again)

Smith says that they could consider intermingle the full and 1/2 day kids for special occasions.

Is free full day K off the table for 2015-2016: At this point full day kindergarten isn’t a done-deal. There is half-day kindergarten and extension option. Wolff talked about when future planning originally recommended this, they pushed hard for 2015-2016 and then commended the administration for finding a way to get any of this done in time for the fall. Wolff said that Lewis was the first person to make the comment, if the district does nothing and the extension just remains the option… the new proposal is the same cost for a higher quality program than what is in place today (and more expensive for the district).

Is it a 1-year pilot? Smith says that the goal is to explore what is out there and satisfy 3 needs. It would likely become part of the infrastructure if it is well-received based on feedback, participation and state-mandate.

Lewis says that was is emerging is why the half day kindergarten is being run — and state mandate aside — would the half day option disappear. Smith says that theoretically it would disappear. Hopes to eliminate the cramming into the small period of time.

Wolff says that the 1/2 day kindergarten serves the district well. Lewis says that the common core has changed so the needs have changed. Lewis says that doesn’t that mean in a perfect world, wouldn’t we be offering full day kindergarten. Smith says that there are also financial considerations.

“We might be sitting here in February or March and find we have no one sign up for full-day kindergarten… or we might find there is 50% enrollment,” says Smith.

Dollard says that he is going to recruit people to vote against it… Sawacki says that some of the other ideas of the future planning committee have costs and thinks this is a good way to move toward full day kindergarten.

Answer: yes, it is 1-year and then it will be evaluated.

In concept, vote whether comfortable: All board members voted YES.

The board has agreed they don’t want to have 1/2 day kindergarten and extension. Dollard is concerned about costs. Wolff says that because people are paying tuition, it is still a tremendous offset to the cost. Sawacki wants cost projections for next week.

Registrar is in the audience. 38 students registered today for full-day. Said that the feedback was positive and then some people were not interested. There is a movement away from extension so parents will be informed that there is an option to enroll in a full-day program.

Wolff encourages people to contact Dr. Smith about issues or Beth Horvath if about registration at the district.

Dr. Smith says that the next year will provide guidance on where to go next.

Meeting closed to public.

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with mild germaphobia, excessive self-reflection, enthusiastic television viewing, and misguided adventures in random hobbies.

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