When it comes to school population, declining enrollment is often considered a negative term. It could mean families are leaving the district, and usually consolidation isn’t far behind, another term parents, teachers, and students would rather not think about.
However, there can also be benefits to declining enrollment, as Superintendent Richard D’Agostino points out with the addition of five elementary schools implementing all-day Kindergarten programs this school year.
Morning and afternoon bus runs associated with half-day Kindergarten sessions have been eliminated at Warwick Neck, Oakland Beach, John Brown Francis, Robertson and Scott elementary schools, as each will be rolling out an all-day kindergarten program.
D’Agostino said the addition of the five elementary school programs brings the total number of all-day kindergarten programs to seven or eight throughout the district.
“Originally, we had it at Oakland Beach, Drum Rock and John Wickes; they were special education-driven,” he said. “Now we will have seven or eight general all-day K programs that cater to special education students as well as typical peers,” which he described as general education students with the skills for the kindergarten curriculum.
Utilizing existing funds and staff in the budget, D’Agostino said the five additional programs are made possible due to declining enrollment.
“We’ve been monitoring the numbers all summer long,” he said. “We looked at it and determined it’s feasible, the numbers are there.”
D’Agostino said there aren’t enough students to hold both morning and afternoon kindergarten sessions.
“We had a choice of only having one teacher for a half-day session and laying off or re-assigning the second teacher to another building, but we thought it would be better to keep the teacher and offer the benefit to our students,” he said.
D’Agostino said moving from a half-day program to an all-day program is a big change.
“Kindergarten teachers were required to provide all [necessary] instruction and readiness in a two-and-a-half-hour session, and now they will have the entire day, which will allow them to go into more depth in areas such as reading readiness, math readiness and social integration,” he said. “This is really good for the kids. It’s difficult to fit all you need to do [as a teacher] in half a day, especially with Common Core.”
When asked how long he expects it would be before all-day K is available at each elementary school in the district, D’Agostino said the department is “going with the flow of things.”
“We’re trying to be as efficient as possible to meet the needs of all students,” he said. “We’re trying to meet the needs of the 21st century. We want to do more, but we need funds and hopefully people understand that.”
D’Agostino put the cost at $3 million “to do it right” and have a teacher and teaching assistant for all-day K in all 16 elementary schools.
“If we had consolidated, we could have all-day K at all the schools,” he said. “We’re fortunate to do this because the numbers are low.”
D’Agostino said the all-day kindergarten programs are open only to those students that attend the schools where the programs are hosted. He said lotteries are held at the Drum Rock Early Childhood Center and John Wickes for students with IEPs (Individualized Education Program) and typical peers.