Ashburn, Va. (December 11, 2014) – The Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP) discussed full-day kindergarten during its November 12 meeting at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Administrative Offices in Ashburn.
LCPS Elementary Education Director Dr. Mike Martin started the meeting by describing the school division’s current kindergarten program.
LCPS instituted regional full-day kindergarten in 2001. There are currently six regional full-day kindergartens at Catoctin, Cedar Lane, Countryside, Newton-Lee, Round Hill and John W. Tolbert Jr. elementary schools. These programs are designed to serve students who have been in the Head Start, STEP (Starting Towards Excellence in Preschool) and Early Childhood Special Education programs as preschoolers. Additionally, all four LCPS elementary schools deemed eligible for federal Title I funding (Guilford, Rolling Ridge, Sugarland and Sully) have full-day kindergarten.
There are 518 students in traditional full-day kindergarten (Title I and regional schools).
Kindergartners in the English language learner (ELL) program may receive a hybrid full-day program; a half day of instruction from an ELL teacher to supplement a half day of instruction in a general education setting. Martin said 495 students are enrolled in such a program.
Altogether, 1,013 of LCPS’ 4,684 kindergarten students (21 percent) are in some kind of full-day program.
Loudoun County is one of three Virginia school divisions (Chesapeake City and Virginia Beach City are the others) that doesn’t have full-day kindergarten. LCPS Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams told LEAP delegates he was exploring ways to address this situation. “I’m interested in having a conversation with the School Board regarding the possibility of the expansion of full-day kindergarten during the 2015-2016 school year…It would not be universal full-day kindergarten, because universal full-day kindergarten, obviously, is every student in the division (being) eligible.”
Williams said the degree to which full-day kindergarten could be expanded would be influenced by limits on space and finances. “In spite of those, I do think it’s important that we say ‘Hey, what can we do specifically? Are there some potential steps that we can take next year relating to expansion of full-day kindergarten?’ ”
Williams spoke to the preliminary fiscal guidance from the Board of Supervisors about the upcoming Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. “Right now we’re looking at a gap between $45 million and $56 million between proposed expenditures and available revenue…Say that there were an expansion of full-day kindergarten; that would increase that gap as it exists now.
“Please do not perceive my comments as excessively pessimistic. I’m saying I think it’s worthy of having a conversation; how might we expand full-day kindergarten throughout the division, particularly in a way that would serve our most disadvantaged students. One possibility would be to create at least one full-day kindergarten classroom in each school – space permitting – with an emphasis on serving at-risk students.
“There may be people in this room who say ‘Wait a minute, that does not go far enough, we should be going farther faster.’…What I’d like to say to the School Board is…‘Let’s talk about this. Let’s look at the possibilities.’ Ultimately, it’s going to be the School Board’s decision in terms of what’s included in the School Board Proposed Budget.”
Lindsay Weissbratten, founder of Loudoun for Full-Day Kindergarten, spoke on behalf of expanding full-day kindergarten. She noted that students in half-day kindergarten have 540 less instructional hours than full-day students and that 76 percent of American school districts had full-day kindergarten in 2012.
“It’s an equity issue. It’s an equity issue for the economically disadvantaged students in Loudoun County, for the English as a second language learners as well as for all students within Loudoun County. There are a tremendous amount of economic benefits. There are numerous research articles, white papers, policy papers, academic research that talk about the benefits (of full-day kindergarten)…
“From an academic perspective, there’s more time. What does more time mean? They have more time for math and reading, which are some of the core elements of the kindergarten program.”
Weissbratten said full-day kindergarten also provided more time for creative learning, music, art and physical education. She said a full-day program also would make the transition to first grade easier because students would be used to the routine of the day.
Weissbratten said half-day kindergarten puts greater stress on teachers than full-day. “They have twice as many students and twice as many parents. That’s a lot of students and a lot of parents. They have less time to do the individualized understanding with those students; to make sure the children are getting the most out of their education.”
Transitioning to full-day kindergarten would not be without some parental apprehension, Weissbratten said. “A lot of parents have a fear of full-day kindergarten – ‘My kid still needs a nap. Are they going to be too tired? How’s that transition going to work?’ The research that I’ve found has said that that is an OK transition; your kids are up for the challenge and that fatigue is not an issue once they’ve started that full-day kindergarten program.”
Weissbratten noted Loudoun was the only jurisdiction in the state without a plan for transitioning to full-day kindergarten. “It is not getting cheaper and there are not going to be less students coming into our school system next year. Every single year we don’t have a plan in place, it will get more expensive.”
Broad Run District School Board member Kevin Kuesters spoke on full-day kindergarten. At the outset of his remarks, Kuesters noted he was speaking for himself and not the School Board. While he’s not yet in favor of implementing universal full-day kindergarten, Kuesters said he was more than willing to discuss it. “We should never be afraid to have the conversation. The only way you know you’re doing the right thing is when you put what you are doing up to scrutiny.”
Kuesters said his position is not “if” Loudoun should have full-day kindergarten, but “when.”
“We should have full-day kindergarten when we have a mature school system; one that’s established with limited growth.”
With limited funding, Kuesters said the School Board has to prioritize among many worthy programs. “Full-day kindergarten provides value, but there are many options that provide value and there’s only a limited number of resources we have to pay for all of them…
“We have to be fair to all the desires, all the needs, all the wants of all of the people we serve.”
LEAP’s next program will be December 10. The subject will be “The State of the Arts and Foreign Language Education.”