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Debate continues over plan for expanded kindergarten schedule

Updated 7:30 pm, Tuesday, March 19, 2013
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Elementary school administrators' proposal to introduce five full days of kindergarten in the coming academic year again triggered starkly divided opinions among parents at Monday's Board of Education meeting.

Kindergartners in Westport public schools currently attend classes for three full days and two abbreviated days each week. Under the proposal, kindergartners would go to school five full days, a change that would entail four additional hours weekly.

Education officials have described the proposed change to five full days of kindergarten as a change needed to accommodate the implementation next year of Common Core Standards, which will form the new basis of all state standardized tests. Administrators have argued that the five full days would allow additional instructional time to meet those standards, while also maintaining current kindergarten programming.

"The Common Core is a game changer," said Cyndy Gilchrest, the school district's director of elementary education. "We want to keep the developmentally wonderful things we have, we want to keep our specials, we want children to be well-rounded and this gives us that."

Since the prospective kindergarten schedule was presented at a March 4 school board meeting, many parents have voiced support for administrators' proposal.

"They are the experts, they know better than parents in terms of what is coming with the Common Core," said Allison Keisman, whose son will enter kindergarten at Long Lots Elementary School in the fall. "I think we really need to back the administrators and educators since they know best."

Susan Cooper, the mother of three children at Kings Highway Elementary School and a preschooler who will enter kindergarten next year, expressed a similar view.

"The time that the full-day kindergarten provides will give greater opportunity to go into greater depth in addressing the Common Care Standards, specifically literacy and mathematics, and teach them to mastery," she said.

Jacquie Marumoto, whose daughter will enter kindergarten, at Coleytown Elementary School this fall, also supports five full days of kindergarten. She proposed, however, that parents who do not support that schedule for their children be allowed to opt out of the extra hours.

"That would give those of us who want to give our children that fully integrated developmentally appropriate experience the chance to do that," Marumoto said. "I don't want my daughter to be held back or have a less fulfilling experience than she's had in preschool."

But the proposal to move to five full days of kindergarten has also sparked opposition from many parents who argue that children flourish academically and developmentally with the town's current kindergarten schedule.

"Research shows that our current kindergarten schedule will serve our children best," said Lisa Power, the mother of a 4-year-old who will enter kindergarten in the fall. "It allows for the required educational time, while honoring the developmental needs of our children."

Other parents suggested that the school district could reach the Common Core Standards with the existing kindergarten schedule.

"I definitely feel that the administrators here are better at evaluating at it than I am, but from what I see, it looks we are already meeting the majority of standards required by the Common Core," said Amy Saperstein, the mother of a second-grader and kindergartner at Longs Lots Elementary School, as well as a preschooler. "Rather than adding more time, I think we could better allocate the time that we have."

Several parents at Monday's meeting also indicated that their lack of enthusiasm about five full days of kindergarten is based on their desire to spend more time with their children during their first year of elementary school.

"I'm sorry about the kids who are going to lose along the way," said David Nelson, the father of a first-grader at Kings Highway Elementary and two younger children who have not yet started elementary school. "I like the idea of seeing my kids screw around in the yard a couple of days a week. It's just nice."

Education board members' debate of the proposed changes was limited. Mark Mathias, who has the longest tenure among the board's current members, appeared ambivalent about the five-day, full-day proposal.

"Not being in school for eight hours a day, you run around and play with some of your friends, you learn stuff there, too," he said. "I'm conflicted because I'm concerned about what's really going to be the best for our students. Is having the extra hours going to have a substantive impact on their life? I believe it could, but I really don't know."

The Board of Education did not vote Monday on the full-day kindergarten plan. The panel is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its next meeting on April 8.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott