School doors open in just 16 days, and residents are still questioning the validity of the district’s full-day kindergarten pilot program.
“I think the school system should offer full-day kindergarten. It’s something that’s long overdue. Parents deserve it. I wish you had it when my daughters went to kindergarten,” Gary Vaccaro said at Monday’s school board meeting. “But I’m trying to get a handle on what the metrics are next with this pilot study.”
After unveiling a full-time kindergarten pilot program, This September, there will be one full-day kindergarten class per elementary school with a class size of 24 and the fate of each student was left up to a lottery.
Although Assistant Superintendent Dr. Vanessa Clark did not immediately return calls for an update on the pilot’s progress, the district had expected to have a class list for each of the three elementary schools set by mid August.
Vaccaro questioned what the purpose of the pilot is.
“Specifically, when I think of a pilot study, you’re doing a pilot study to determine if it's going to be successful, is it going to be beneficial. My feeling of it is that in some ways you already know it’s going to be successful, it’s going to be beneficial because you already made a presentation about the statistics,” he 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, District Supervisor for Language Arts Michelle Amos had said during the presentation. She added that kindergarten through second grade is foundational years for literacy skills.
“I don’t think you can keep offering the pilot study for three, four years,” Vaccaro said. “The kids with full-day kindergarten are getting a benefit, a better education and that’s not fair to the other residents in town.”
Many parents have shown concern over the educational gap that the kindergarten pilot may create between those who won the lottery and those who didn’t.
The transition would be no different from other years, in which some students came from a full-day of kindergarten while others did not, Amos said after the lottery.
“Our first-grade teachers are well versed in differentiation and meeting the needs of the students,” she said.
Although Superintendent Dr. Sandra Brower expects “growing pains,” she previously said early childhood education naturally addresses many parents concerns about any educational gap.
Vaccaro also questioned if the next step will be a referendum, similar to the one that sought a kindergarten program in 2006.
“I don’t think there’s a question of whether it will be successful. I think that’s well understood. That’s something we’ve been trying to do since before 2006,” School Board President Jack Martenak said. “The biggest thing right now is we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to do this given the staff and the budget and the space that we have.”
Martenak doesn’t anticipate residents seeing a referendum similar to the one in 2006.
The pilot will allow the district the opportunity to work out any kinks and determine the resources that are needed to work towards a program that could potentially be offered to all Lacey kindergarteners, he said.
“It’s a pilot program to work towards where can we consolidate space, how can we utilize our staff, how can we work the administrative issues that arise,” he said.
The pilot puts the district on a “slippery slope,” Vaccaro said.
“I don’t know how long you can keep doing that legally,” he said. “I think you know what you need to do. The pilot study isn’t going to change that. I think you should just put it out there and say this is what it’s going to be.”
The district does not have a plan in place yet, Martenak said, and is unaware of what the ultimate cost will be to the district. The district did not anticipate having a kindergarten pilot for this school year, which is why it must be done within the existing budget.
The district will use the upcoming school year to evaluate the program, facilities, resources and more to determine if and when a full-time kindergarten program can be offered to all incoming students.
In 2006, when the original referendum was presented, enrollment was going up, Martenak said. Now, enrollment is decreasing, which may enable the district to take advantage of more space.
“All those variables, and there is about 20 or 30 of them, all need to be looked at and figured out,” he said. “Can we do it for free? That’s probably unlikely…We’ve always been creative on this board to figure out how to do things, save a little money here, come up with money there.”
The pilot program is a step in the right direction and it is not the district’s goal to do it year after year, Martenak said.
“We’re trying. It’s going to take some creative thinking and whether or not we’ll need any facility modifications, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Kindergarten orientation for each of the elementary schools was held today. Story to follow.