An Open Letter regarding changes to the Kindergarten program: Dear Dr. Thomas Smith, Superintendent, and Hopewell Valley Regional School District School Board Members,
I am a parent who wants to have my kindergartener home for half the day to provide my own enrichment activities and give her time for downtime, free choice play, and field trips to places far from a classroom. However, I’ve spoken to kindergarten teachers and heard their concerns that there isn’t enough time in the three hour program to cover the curriculum, let alone mix it with these valuable activities. Socialization, independence, working with others – aren’t these the greatest skills learned in kindergarten? Where is the time to develop them?
We can debate what happened to the old kindergarten – the old childhood. I’d love to, but in reality it is the past. More than 81% of districts in the state of New Jersey provide full day kindergarten at no additional cost to parents. Hopewell Valley Regional School District considers itself to be an example of “Excellence in Education.” If that is true, why have we not led the pack in implementing full-day kindergarten? Why are we trailing 81% of districts in this state, by not following the high standards of kindergarten education that has become the norm? In a few years, it may be mandated by the state. Why is the state waiting? Not every district may have the space to house full day kindergarten and that means additional funds – lots of them.
When you proposed your newest solution to the kindergarten question, you gave Summit, NJ as an example. Why isn’t Summit implementing full day kindergarten for everyone? Space! Just to house the programs they are required to provide, they had to spend large sums of money to reopen an old school and put additions on existing buildings. During this process, they were able to provide two classrooms to “pilot” full day kindergarten. One hundred fifty-five applicants applied for this lottery-based “pilot” program and only forty were able to take advantage of it. Summit, NJ saw the value in full day kindergarten. They are attempting to provide it to as many students as possible now, since they don’t have the classroom space for everyone yet.
Yes, we will have to spend money. But, how much money? If we find full day kindergarten to be such a valuable addition to our school district, why can’t we find that in our $70+ million budget?
Absent from the meeting last Monday night was the district’s analysis on providing full day kindergarten for all students eligible in September 2015. What is the cost? How much additional money would it take over and above the half-day option? What is the cost for additional staffing needed? What is the cost for additional supplies? What is the cost for curriculum development? Is there space at each school to accommodate full day kindergarten? What is the cost to bring the buildings up to code for kindergarten? What is the total facilities cost? What programs would have to be cut (if any)? What will the exact impact be to each taxpayer?
Hopewell Valley provides a phenomenal education. I have 1st and 3rd graders in the district and have always considered the educational experience they are receiving to be “Excellence in Education.” Why? Hopewell Valley has fabulous teachers, resources, experiences, and a staff that works together and supports each other. The kindergarten teachers are begging for full day kindergarten. Their knowledge of the curriculum and their expertise on the age group is telling them that in order to cover the curriculum and provide the kids the best environment to absorb that curriculum, they need a full day. According to The Full Day Kindergarten Brief (http://www.state.nj.us/education/ece/k/ ), kindergarteners benefit from a developmentally appropriate, full-day program structured in a way that can enhance their social, emotional and behavioral growth in addition to learning the curriculum. School readiness is increased with a full day program because it prepares kindergarteners better for the transition to first grade. Why should these opportunities be separated by your ability to pay $4,000 in a public school system when you already pay taxes to fund the school system?
I look forward to further discussion of the proposed kindergarten changes at the Board Meeting on Monday, January 12th at 7:30pm at the Bear Tavern Elementary School.