With a healthier financial outlook on the horizon, the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees discussed the possibility of debuting a full-day kindergarten program throughout the district at their Oct. 14 meeting.
A projected increase in property taxes prompted trustees to examine prudent ways to spend the funds. Nancy Davis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, presented information about the district’s existing full-day kindergarten program at Gardner Bullis School. The program enrolls students in a half-day program during the first six weeks, then eases them into the full-day program.
Kate Goines, who helped initiate the pilot full-day program, said the first six weeks are designed to help students transition to a full day and allow time for teachers to get to know the students and parent volunteers to create an optimal full-day experience.
Goines said afternoons don’t mean additional content for kindergartners, but additional opportunities to reinforce learning.
“The afternoon is not about teaching more, it’s about getting much more in-depth,” she said. “It gives us more time to reach all the different levels that you see very clearly in a kindergarten classroom.”
Davis said discussing the full-day option in no way discredits the district’s current half-day program.
“The teachers are doing a fabulous job with the time they currently have,” she said. “Our children are not missing anything, but there could be so much more we could provide them in a full-day program.”
According to Davis, benefits include attention to social and emotional well-being, time to work at their own pace, increased opportunities for projects, greater individualized instruction and lower stress and less intensity for teacher and students.
The district surveyed the parents of preschoolers and current kindergarten through third-grade students to solicit feedback on a full-day program.
Of the 705 respondents, 83 percent of current district parents said they would have enrolled their children in a full-day program if one were available at their home schools. Of the 132 preschool parents who responded, 85 percent would select a full-day program over a half-day offering. The results of a teacher survey are still being compiled.
Randy Kenyon, assistant superintendent for business services, outlined the costs associated with a districtwide full-day program. Implementing the program would cost $447,000 for one-time facilities expenses and $202,000 for ongoing staffing and rental of portables.
Eleven parents and teachers commented publicly at the meeting, with many parents opposed to a full-day program.
Oak Avenue School parent Paige Bennion said she supports the current half-day program.
“A half-day program is developmentally appropriate – 5- and 6-year-olds need downtime. They need mental and physical rest,” she said.
Parent Hilary Smith agreed with Bennion, adding that kindergartners need time to play in the dirt, and questioned whether the district could financially afford the rollout.
Parents whose children have attended the full-day program touted its advantages.
Amanda Boschken said her children benefited from the full-day kindergarten program at Gardner Bullis.
“My daughter feels more a part of the school community,” Boshken said. “She feels a part of the big group. The students have an ownership with the property and the school.”
Fellow Gardner Bullis parent Laura Schmidt agreed.
“It’s my opinion that full day is better,” she said. “The longer day does increase instructional time. They are able to delve in deeper for the kids in a way that is more fun for the kids.”
Covington parent Sharon Clay said she supported the district’s current curriculum, and whatever moves the trustees intend to make should not compromise the quality of the program.
“I am in favor of a hybrid model, which would be a good compromise for fiscal responsibility,” Clay said. “My biggest concern is that we do this in a way that does not sacrifice the incredible program we have now.”
Gardner Bullis kindergarten teacher Pam Loebner, who has taught both half- and full-day kindergarten classes, said she is in favor of a full-day program.
“I feel the full day offers each child a successful, less stressful pathway to learning,” she said. “A full-day kindergarten gives the gift of time to each student.”
Recently retired teacher Amanda Terry warned the trustees that a full-day program is not for every 5-year-old.
“There are a lot of parents who want to stay home with their children,” Terry said. “We are lucky that we have parents who want to do that. I would ask that you listen to the teachers in the district who have taught kindergarten – they know a lot about 5- and 6-year-olds’ needs. Look at the different models – there are lots of other ways to do it.”
Trustees directed staff to review the various models and asked for further data on performance outcomes for full-day kindergarten students.
Los Altos School District officials have instructed trustees to make the decision before January, when the district engages with local preschools about kindergarten enrollment for the following school year.
Los Altos School District: All-day kindergarten - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier