Percy Julian Middle School’s auditorim was packed with more than 100 people last Wednesday during the District 97 Full-Day Kindergarten Forum.

The forum took place after an abreviated school board meeting, which also took place at Julian, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave.

The district is looking to roll out a full-day kindergarten program, starting with three schools next year, and throughout the district in the 2009-2010 school year. Whittier currently has a mixed-level, full-day program. The other elementary schools offer a half-day program. District-wide all-day kindergarten was a top initiative in the district’s strategic plan.

The program still requires board approval. Supt. Constance Collins has asked the board to decide at its Feb. 23 meeting in order for the district to begin the roll-out next fall at Beye, Irving and Longfellow elementary schools.

Last week’s more than two-hour forum included a panel composed of teachers and administrators from other districts that offer full-day kindergarten.

The forum also included a Q&A with Dist. 97 staff, administrators and board members. The rest of the forum involved questions from the audience.

Most revolved around how the program would work and how the district intended to pay for it. The financial picture was laid out by Don Robinson, Dist. 97 assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

A full-day program, he said, would be funded through additional state aid targeted to moving from half-day to full-day programs.

Collins reiterated the program would not require a referendum.

None of the audience members who spoke were flatly against full-day kindergarten, but some parents said they would like their children to remain in a half-day setting. Some were parents who said they use the other half of the day to reinforce what the kids learned in school. The parents also worried that the district was moving swiftly to a full-day program without considering half-day options.

Peter Barber, a Dist. 97 school board member, who took part in the Q&A, stressed there would be a half-day option for some parents.

“Not only will there be a half-day option, it is required by law,” Barber said. “So if you’re in that situation, this option is available to you. The schools will absolutely work with you. Just to be clear, it is something you still have as an option.”

Another audience question focused on whether a full-day program would result in increased time for academics and activities.

Kevin Anderson, Dist. 97 assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said full-day K would give the district additional time to do more of what’s already being done.

Whittier Principal Carol Young said a all-day program has allowed her school to devote a full hour to math instruction, and additional time for language and reading.

“We have a wonderful opportunity in our district to take full advantage of the curriculum,” she said. “A half-day program leaves little room for anything else.”

Linda Hunsicker, a kindergarten teacher at Skokie School Dist. 68 and one of the panelists, said her district just started full-day K this school year. They have more time, she said, for instruction as well as for unstructured activities and play. All-day was approved in the Skokie school district last summer.

The other forum panelists included Young, Gina Siracusa, a kindergarten teacher in River Grove School Dist. 85.5; Susan Lewis, principal at Evanston/Skokie School Dist. 65; and Elizabeth Lippitt, executive director of the Infant Welfare Clinic, former Dist. 97 school board president, and member of the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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