The school district administration unveiled a full-time kindergarten pilot program Monday night that will kickoff this September.
“We are very excited to be presenting this program. The administration has been discussing this implementation since January 2012,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Vanessa Clark said.
Full-time kindergarten has been a topic of discussion in Lacey for more than nine years, with limited resources being the main hindrance.
Key aspects for consideration of the pilot program were enrollment figures, facilities and staffing needs, Clark said.
Currently, 23 school districts in Ocean County have a full-day kindergarten program and six, including Lacey Township, do not. Two of those six offer paid enrichment for students to stay a whole day, said Michelle Amos, District Supervisor for Language Arts.
“In our discussions we thought that this was really essential that we take baby steps toward a solution to get our students to the point where they have the same educational opportunities as students in surrounding districts,” she said.
With a full-time program, 30 percent more time will be spent on reading and literacy instruction while 46 percent more time will be dedicated to mathematics, she said. Kindergarten through second grade are foundational years for literacy skills and the district had a two-year adoption of enVisionMATH for kindergarten through sixth grade.
“The additional time would really benefit our students,” Amos said. “The students would really benefit from being able to implement some of the additional pieces, the technology pieces, small group instruction.”
Kindergarten can technically be taught during a half-day but the subjects should be taught in a 60-minute block, Amos said.
As per the New Jersey Department of Education’s Best Practices in Kindergarten Implementation, 140 minutes should be dedicated to literacy and math daily; 90 minutes to interdisciplinary content areas/technology instruction; 40 to specials such as physical education, art, and music; 60 minutes to social skills development during lunch and recess and 60 minutes for classroom activities/transitions. Those time blocks are spread out throughout the day, Amos said.
The program would provide greater opportunities for more independent learning, classroom involvement and work with peers. It would also allow for a reduction in remediation and a better transition to first grade, she said.
The program will be put into place by utilizing the facilities and staffing the district already has, said William Zylinski, District Supervisor of Humanities.
This September there will be one full-day kindergarten class per elementary school with a class size of 24, he said.
School Board President Jack Martenak explained that previously there were six sections of half-day kindergarten in each elementary school. Now, there will be four sections of half day and one full day kindergarten class in each elementary school.
There will be a selection process through an anonymous lottery, Zylinski said.
On Wednesday, Aug. 1, all fully registered kindergarten students will be entered in a computer-generated lottery. The lottery will be done on Thursday, Aug. 2 and parents will be notified that their child is eligible for full-day kindergarten in Lacey on Monday, Aug. 6.
Parents with eligible children must notify the school district of participation in the program by Thursday, Aug. 9.
“Obviously we understand and recognize how important a full-day kindergarten program is to our littlest learners,” Superintendent Dr. Sandra Brower said. “We’re very, very excited. We wish and hope and anticipate that this could start the seeds to how we can offer a full-time kindergarten here in Lacey.”
The district tried to implement a program in 2005 through a referendum but it did not pass, Martenak said. The district needed additional facilities back then but with the decline in housing construction in Lacey, there has been a decrease in enrollment figures.
In the past, the state made a mandate requiring all schools to provide a full-time kindergarten but then the economy declined and the funds was not available, Board Member Maureen Tirella said, commending the administration for the pilot program.
The long-term goal is to make full-time kindergarten available to every student at minimal costs, he said. The 2012-13 program will be of no cost to the district since it is utilizing the district's facilities and current staff.
“During the course of this pilot, we’re going to learn a lot of things,” he said. “Not just about space but also about bussing and administration and lunch room and all those other things that are going to go into housing a full-time kindergarten.”
Resident Regina Discenza questioned the 2012 enrollment for kindergarten, which is 279. Discenza said the decrease in enrollment is “very good.” This year, 375 kindergarteners graduated. But the enrollment figure is generally lower because it doesn’t include private kindergartens, Zylinski pointed out.
“With the resources we have, we’re doing the right thing,” Vice President Eric Schubiger said, adding that he has some concerns. “I don’t think that any of our children in our district should be subject to a lottery. It is what it is.”
Despite those concerns, Schubiger recognizes the importance of a full-time kindergarten and is in full support of the program, he said.
“This is a good step towards our eventual goal. When we get there and how we get there is still a work in progress,” Martenak said. “At least it’s a start.”
“This is great,” one resident said during “It’s about time.”