Board: Full-day kindergarten regardless of budget vote

| 05 Apr 2012 | 12:38

WEST MILFORD — Opinions are mixed out in the public about the school district implementing a full-day kindergarten program beginning this September. Some parents have come to the school board meetings and written letters to newspapers saying they are voting down the budget because they don't want a full-day kindergarten program. But last week, interim Superintendent John Petrelli said he would make the recommendation to implement the program regardless of whether the budget is passed or defeated.

"We think is vital to the growth and advancement of this school district,” Petrelli said in February. He noted that West Milford is one of only four districts in Passaic County that does not provide a full-day kindergarten. The others are Pompton Lakes, Wayne and Ringwood.

Since kindergarten is not a requirement by law, it is ultimately the decision of parents to enroll their children in any kindergarten program.

According to West Milford's Director of Education Iris Wechling, beginning in September, “Full-day kindergarten would be the implemented model, allowing all students to benefit from the full range of academic and social experiences being provided.”

Half-day kindergarten programs are becoming a thing of the past With changes to state guidelines for ‘Common Core Curriculum Standards’ resulting in increased demand on teachers to help their students learn certain materials at an earlier age.

Wechling said the current kindergarten teachers and elementary principals are working with her to develop the program. They are conducting site visits to districts with full-day programs and talking to those administrators about implementation of the program.

Kindergarten teachers from five of the six elementary schools in the district were present at the board of education meeting on March 26 and commented on the proposal of a full day program. Karen McCourt, who teaches kindergarten at Apshawa, acted as the spokesperson for the group. She noted that kindergarten is rarely a child’s first school experience, but rather fits into a continuum of formal education that begins with daycare or preschool and moves through elementary school, then middle, then high school. McCourt said

“The full day program gives us the opportunity to place more emphasis on developing children’s conceptual knowledge because kindergarten is considered the foundational year,” McCourt stated.

She said the six kindergarten teachers individually researched the benefits of a full-day program for their students and found that none of the studies showed advantages for half-day programs.

“In every study, full-day kindergarten students academically and socially outperform their half day counterparts,” McCourt said. "The full day kindergarten program will enable us to have a more complete curriculum using the ‘common core curriculum’ standards, and we really look forward to it.”

Some who have spoken out in opposition to the program have mentioned nap time for full-day kindergarten children being a waste of taxpayer money. While full-day kindergarten students do need a rest time, it is not in the form of a nap.

“The recommendation from both our educational team as well as from the New Jersey Department of Education Early Childhood department is that there be an afternoon time during which students can rest while learning,” Wechling said.

Wechling said it will be a familiar model, one in which the students rest on the floor while their teacher reads aloud. Wechling called it more of a "recharging time" while learning. She also noted that the youngest students will change a great deal in the course of the year, allowing the program to grow with the needs of the students.

Go to page 13 for a parent's view on why half-day kindergarten should remain.