By Devin Rose
Due to its cost and the lack of evidence that it would improve academic performance, River Forest schools will not implement a full-day kindergarten program in the fall of 2013.
In a 6-1 vote Monday night, the District 90 Board of Education accepted a recommendation by Superintendent Ed Condon to stick with the current configuration of half-day kindergarten programs at Lincoln and Willard elementary schools.
"While a full-day program undoubtedly would have been an enjoyable experience for our students, we concluded that it would not carry significant academic benefits," Condon said in a letter to community members posted on the D90 website.
The recommendation was based on about a year and a half of research done by D90 staff members, Condon said. They visited other districts that have implemented it, such as Oak Park and LaGrange, and interviewed principals in both places. In D90, they held discussions with PTO groups and focus groups with kindergarten teachers.
A review of student achievement showed strong performances district-wide, said Martha Ryan-Toye, director of student services. She said about 91 percent of students coming into D90 kindergarten already have strong core competency skills. By first grade, achievement tests show they've made "really nice gains," Ryan-Toye said. And by eighth grade, between 94 and 98 percent of D90 students meet or exceed state standards.
The full-day program was expected to cost about $3 million in its first year, and about $6.2 million for the first eight years, said Anthony Cozzi, director of finances and facilities.
Condon said a better use of resources might be a voluntary program to help students who aren't meeting standards before they enter first grade. Board member Ralph Martire said he agreed that would be a more directed use of resources and would accomplish more for a smaller price.
"Sometimes the decision not to do something is harder to make," said board President James Weiss. He added that the debate could come up again in the next strategic plan in a few years, when the Common Core standards are in place.
Board member Liz Fischer voted in favor of full-day K, saying she'd like to see a leading district stay ahead of the curve.