Elementary District 90 turned back a request to start full-day kindergarten next fall, deciding instead to look at whether the program could be implemented in some form in the future.
Earlier this month, about 25 parents asked the school board to consider a pilot program at Lincoln and Willard for the fall. They suggested a committee of parents, kindergarten teachers, principals, administrators and board members find a classroom in each building and work out other details.
Instead, the administration will look at all the information gathered when the issue was studied during the 2011-2012 school year. The school board by a 6-1 vote rejected the program; Liz Fischer voted in favor of the proposal.
Administrators also will assess the effectiveness of the district’s current Kindergarten Intervention Program, which offers extra assistance to students at the close of the morning session and before the afternoon class begins. They also want to examine recent studies – for and against the issue – that may relate to programs in communities with demographics similar to River Forest.
Board members questioned the viability of starting a program in the fall, wondering how many students would be in a pilot program in each school and how they would be chosen.
School board president Pat Meyer called the parents’ request a “pipe dream” and noted there were a number of other issues – not the least of which was financial – that would have to be addressed.
“If we’re going to spend some money… is there a way to spend that for kids who could most benefit from this and who could take advantage of the extra instruction time in full-day kindergarten?” asked Meyer, who voted against a similar proposal in 2012.
Board member Barb Hickey expressed concern about other expenses the district might have to incur, including taking on more responsibility to fund teacher pensions.
“If we raise taxes, we’ll price people out of this community. We have to make it possible for people to be here. We have to be careful stewards of our resources,” she said.
Rich Moore, who as a parent didn’t support it when it first came up in the 2012 school year, was not convinced that all-day kindergarten would push District 90 students toward greater academic achievement or social-emotional adjustment.
Ralph Martire, who voted against the program in 2012, was skeptical about the benefits of full-day kindergarten for a high performing system such as District 90.
“I need to be convinced this is the right thing to do. We have to generate the long-term benefit for the children,” said Martire, who is spearheading district efforts to close the achievement gap.
Of all the board members, only Anne Gottlieb indicated the question merited further study, especially in light of Common Core standards and issues of equity. The district has started examining how they can raise the achievement level of students, particularly students of color.
“Are we reaching all the kids? We are dealing with students who need intervention, who might not be kindergarten ready or who are struggling. Is the KIP program effective or not? Let’s be creative in looking at intervention for kindergarteners and whether more hours need to be added for students who need it,” she said.
There was no request from the board to update financial information on the cost. In 2012, full-day kindergarten was expected to cost about $3 million in its first year, and about $6.2 million for the first eight years, district officials said.
In their presentation, parents said research they examined shows the program’s benefits. They said a vast majority of districts offered full-day kindergarten, including La Grange and Glencoe.
Brendan Bedell moved to River Forest because he wanted the best education for his two daughters and was shocked that District 90 only offered a half-day program.
“The research agrees that full-day kindergarten increased academic gains and led to improved academic behavior from students,” he said.
Parents also showed that gains were especially impressive in English and mathematics. Low socio-economic students made impressive gains as well, they said.
Allison Jack, one of the parents who led the group that had been talking and studying the issue for at least six months, called the board’s direction demoralizing, but said the group will get parents to the board meeting when the research is presented.
A 2014 state capital needs assessment survey showed that of 515 districts, 433 of them provide full-day kindergarten.