D97 approves all-day kindergarten

Irving, Beye and Longfellow will join Whittier this fall

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By TERRY DEAN

Irving, Beye and Longfellow elementary schools have been chosen as the next three schools in District 97 to roll out all-day kindergarten this fall.

The schools were chosen because they have the highest percentage of at-risk students, said Supt. Constance Collins, who made the announcement last Wednesday at the Dist. 97 Board of Education meeting. The schools, she added, also have space to accommodate the program in the upcoming school year.

The plan is to start all-day kindergarten at the three schools this fall and expand it to the other elementary schools the following year (Whittier School has had a mixed-level, full-day program for several years). The other schools offer half-day kindergarten 5 days a week from 8 to 11 in the morning, except on Wednesdays when kids are dismissed at 10:30 a.m.

"The principals have talked with the staff at their schools, and have talked with the kindergarten teachers at their schools. They have indicated that they have the space at their schools to do it," said Collins. "We have also talked about if our enrollment increases because of private and parochial students wanting to attend our kindergarten, would we be able to accommodate them."

Full-day kindergarten is one of the main initiatives in Dist. 97's strategic plan.

As the plan's biggest ticket item, all-day K would initially cost around $721,000, a raw estimate provided by the district that does not include any building modifications, should any be necessary.

Collins said all-day K would not require a referendum, but instead would pay for itself through additional general state aid.

The "foundation level" in aid is set by the state and changes from year to year. This year, the foundation level for school districts increased by $400 to $5,734 per pupil.

Any increase in general state aid, due to increased average daily attendance (ADA), would not be received until the following school year, said Don Robinson, Dist. 97 assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

As an example, if the district estimated 200 students were to enroll in all-day kindergarten in the 2008-2009 school year rather than half-day, the full-time equivalent enrollment would increase by 100. Based on an ADA estimate of 93 percent, or 93 students, the increased ADA multiplied by the foundation level would net increased general state aid the following year of approximately $533,000, Robinson said.

Collins said that amount more than covers all-day K for that year. The amount of state aid is estimated to increase the following year.

All-day K forum, Jan. 23

The district will host a public forum on all-day kindergarten next Wednesday at Percy Julian Middle School from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., following the school board's regular meeting, also at Julian. The forum will include community feedback, and a panel of teachers, administrators and parents from other school districts with full-day kindergarten programs. Dist. 97 staff will also be part of the panel.

All-day kindergarten will require approval by the Dist. 97 school board, which is expected to take a vote at its Feb. 27, meeting.

Collins asked for a decision by then in order to begin the roll out process.

"That is the first phase of this because then the work of putting everything in place, as far as staff development, etc., will need to be laid out between that time and the start of the school year in August," she said.

Reaction at the designated schools has been mostly positive, though questions concerning costs have been raised.

Jassen Strokosch, co-president of the Irving PTO, said some parents wonder how the district will pay for all-day kindergarten. Other concerns involve the Hepzibah Children's Association, which runs several services in Dist. 97, including an after-school kindergarten program.

"Will it go away, will it move? It's a very important program for our at-risk kids," said Strokosch, who, otherwise, supports the plan.

Michelle Brandt, PTO co-president at Beye, also had questions about funding, but also supports the idea.

"The curriculum in Dist. 97 is already so good," said Brandt, who has two children entering kindergarten program next fall. "If this full-day can allow children to have that, that's awesome."

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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