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Proposed full-day kindergarten classes fail to make grade with all parents

Updated 2:50 pm, Tuesday, March 5, 2013
  • Education administrators present a proposal to change instructional times for elementary-school students, a plan that would include the introduction of five days of full-day kindergarten. From left, in the front row, are: Kings Highway Elementary School Principal Susie Da Silva; Director of Elementary Education Cynthia Gilchrest; Long Lots Elementary School Principal Rex Jones; Saugatuck Elementary School Principal Julie Droller and Greens Farms Elementary School Principal John Bayers. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Education administrators present a proposal to change instructional times for elementary-school students, a plan that would include the introduction of five days of full-day kindergarten. From left, in the front row, are: Kings Highway Elementary School Principal Susie Da Silva; Director of Elementary Education Cynthia Gilchrest; Long Lots Elementary School Principal Rex Jones; Saugatuck Elementary School Principal Julie Droller and Greens Farms Elementary School Principal John Bayers. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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KINDERGARTEN CLASSES, TOTAL TIME WEEKLY (minutes):
Language Arts: 415
Math: 150
Science/Social Studies: 60
Lunch and Recess: 250
Choice [when students can choose an activity] and Recess: 240
Social Skills/Morning Meeting: 150
Specials [includes technology and library media programming]: 295
Snack: 75
Transitions [time between classes]: 100
Pack-up: 50

PROPOSED TOTAL TIME WEEKLY (minutes)
Language Arts: 600
Math: 225
Science/Social Studies: 150
Lunch and Recess: 250
Choice and Recess: 300
Social Skills/Morning Meeting: 150
Specials: 225
Snack:75
Transitions: 100
Pack-up: 50

* Source: Westport Board of Education
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Elementary school administrators are proposing a comprehensive set of instructional-time changes for the next academic year, including the introduction of five full days of kindergarten -- a plan that sparked impassioned debate 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 proposed plan, kindergartners would go to school for five full days, a change that would mean spending four additional hours at school each week.

The administrators' curriculum proposal also calls for a substantial increase in instructional time in "content areas," such as language arts, science and social studies for kindergartners, as well as students in grades one through five. To meet those new instructional-time targets, elementary-school students' technology and library media programming would be incorporated into their content-area curricula. For fifth-graders, the increased focus in the content areas would also be accommodated by a 10-minute reduction in their total physical-education instruction time each week.

Education officials have positioned the proposed instructional-time changes as an essential move to respond to the implementation next year of Common Core Standards, which will form the new basis of all state standardized tests. Describing the Common Core Standards as more rigorous than current state tests such as the Connecticut Mastery Test and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, administrators argue that more instructional time is needed for elementary-school pupils to meet the new criteria.

"We felt that we needed to establish an elementary framework of instructional time that reflected the best-practice 21st-century skills in line with the Common Core," said Cynthia Gilchrest, director of elementary education. "Our previous framework did not do that and we needed to do that."

Introducing five full days of kindergarten would save $50,000 each year through the elimination of midday bus runs, according to Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon.

Set against the support of education administrators for five full days of kindergarten, a number of parents expressed concerns that such a schedule would overburden kindergarten-age youngsters, lessen those pupils' time spent with their families and limit developmental opportunities outside of the classroom.

"I just think what these children are being asked to do and the hours you're asking them to do is simply too much for their age," said Caroline Iannucci, whose oldest son will enter kindergarten at Greens Farms Elementary School in the fall. "It's not developmentally appropriate."

The discussion of the prospective switch to five full days of kindergarten also examined whether that change would diminish those pupils' enthusiasm for learning and put them at risk of "burnout" because of the four extra hours spent at school each week.

"Four hours in the eyes of a 4 or 5-year-old is a huge amount of time," said Jill Mann, the mother of three Greens Farms Elementary students. "I think the kids can do it, but will they still love to learn as much as they would with a little more relaxed schedule?

Other parents argued, however, that kindergartners would benefit from and prefer going to school for five full days.

"Both my fifth-grader and my third-grader felt extremely strongly that the extended days, the short days, were way too rushed," said Sheri Rabiner-Gordon. "The long days were much better, much more relaxed and they felt that they got a lot more out of the longer days."

School board members' debate of the proposed changes was brief. Board of Education Secretary Michael Gordon said there would "not be a lot of appetite" to accommodate the instructional-minute increases by eliminating programming from Kool 2 B Kind, an organization that brings Staples High School students to the town's elementary school to teach the younger pupils about kindness and tolerance. He added that he would not want the prospective 10-minute cut to fifth-grade physical education to act as a "slippery slope" for further reductions in that subject.

The board did not vote Monday on the prospective instructional-time changes. The panel is scheduled to continue reviewing the plan at its next meeting March 18, and then vote on the proposed change to five full days of kindergarten at an April 8 meeting.

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

KINDERGARTEN CLASSES, TOTAL TIME WEEKLY (minutes):

Language Arts: 415

Math: 150

Science/Social Studies: 60

Lunch and Recess: 250

Choice [when students can choose an activity] and Recess: 240

Social Skills/Morning Meeting: 150

Specials [includes technology and library media programming]: 295

Snack: 75

Transitions [time between classes]: 100

Pack-up: 50

PROPOSED TOTAL TIME WEEKLY (minutes)

Language Arts: 600

Math: 225

Science/Social Studies: 150

Lunch and Recess: 250

Choice and Recess: 300

Social Skills/Morning Meeting: 150

Specials: 225

Snack:75

Transitions: 100

Pack-up: 50

* Source: Westport Board of Education