After years of community interest and petitions, future River Forest School District 90 kindergarten families will now be able to join most parents in Illinois with full-day kindergarten classes. 

During the February D90 Board of Education meeting, the board approved the recommendations of the Kindergarten Program Review Committee (KPRC), composed of 22 members, to expand the current model to a full-day program. The committee oversaw the Kindergarten Program Review Process, which included research, a community survey, facility and financial impact assessment, as well as a geodemographic analysis, the study of people based on where they live in the area. 

Dr. Allison Hawley, who chaired the committee, said they worked closely with additional partners, including the Collaboration for Early Childhood and the National Equity Project, along with parents, faculty and others to put together an effective committee for the review, ensuring they covered important aspects. 

In past years, the district had passed on moving to the full-day model as they believed the program in place was able to properly accommodate the needs of families and students. Since 2015, however, Superintendent Edward Condon, who joined the district in 2011, said they have learned more about the needs of their students during the early childhood years, which pushed them to reevaluate the program again. Condon said the review revealed that they were no longer meeting the needs of students anymore. 

According to Condon, three major things contributed to that view: having greater understanding of the impact of trauma and the need for the district to be able to address the social and emotional needs of young students, increased understanding of the academic demands of children, and an awareness of equity, allowing all students and families to have full access to opportunities. 

“I think any educator gets excited about the possibilities of trying to ensure that we can do more or go further to support the needs of our students and ensure their academic success,” Condon said. 

The full-day model will go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year. 

According to data analysis by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2015, about 79 percent of kindergarten classes in the state are full-day, Monday through Friday. 

During the February meeting, many district parents voiced favor for the move, including Rodney Clayton, a father of two, who said, like most local parents, he had to supplement the half-day kindergarten model with additional programs, which came with a financial cost. 

In a survey sent out to the community during the review: out of 351 responses submitted, almost 77 percent of parents said they had elected to supplement their child’s formal kindergarten experience with other activities or social programming. Additionally, the survey asked participants whether they believed anyone in the community was not having their needs met by the district’s current structure. Of 659 responses received, 86.04 percent answered yes.

For the district to fully meet the needs of all students as well as continue to move forward with their goal of equity across the board, Clayton believes a full-day program option is needed. 

“The board has made equity a cornerstone of what we are trying to do here,” Clayton said. “If you want to have an equitable outcome, there are certain kids in the district who do need more instruction, and if you are not offering that as an option, then it is going to make it harder to achieve equity.”

“Those early years are very valuable,” Clayton said. “There are a lot of cases, from an equity lens, students that start off when they are behind, some of them don’t catch up.” 

According to the information presented, studies showed that students who attended full-day kindergarten have greater gains in reading and math, have more meaningful interactions, have more time to address academic needs, and can engage for a greater period of time.  

Diane Carroll, district parent, said she first began supporting the local parent efforts to push for the all-day model when her oldest son was in kindergarten, as she felt it would help elevate the students’ experience. 

“I really wanted there to be an equitable and a 21st-century solution for our children,” Carroll said. “We were being left behind.” 

Working around the half-day model, which offered a morning option and an evening option, was hard for parents to navigate, said Carroll, adding that the two-and-a-half hours of class time was not enough for students to get meaningful interactions.

Following the recent review, Hawley said the additional time would allow students more time to build those important skills and relationships. 

“It allows kids to invest in activities over a longer period of time; they aren’t switching activities quite so rapidly,” Hawley said. “It allows them to persevere in their learning and collaborate with their peers and enhance their social interactions across the day.” 

Her youngest child is now a fourth-grader, but Carroll said full-day classes will allow upcoming kindergarten parents the opportunity to create reliable schedules and more structure for their families. 

“It’s hard to schedule your life around a half-day,” Carroll said. “For the parents, it is going to allow them to have a normal schedule. Having that consistency will be helpful for their lives, and that goes through to the employers and community; everybody becomes more productive when you have a schedule you can rely on.” 

Each building has been allocated space for the expansion, with draft floor plans developed to incorporate the additional classrooms at Lincoln and Willard Elementary. 

At Lincoln, the Library Learning Center, which underwent repurposing in the past, based on school needs, was proposed to be subdivided to create additional instructional space. Along with the removal of existing electrical data wireway from the STEM room, the Multipurpose Room will be subdivided for additional space. 

At Willard Elementary, Rooms 107 and 109 would be combined to allow for one large Special Education room, allowing for kindergarten classes to be kept near each other. 

According to Condon, all renovations will be done by the start of the upcoming school year. The district will be hiring the equivalent of three new full-time educators for the fall to ensure they are well staffed for the upcoming school year. 

With kindergarteners arriving and departing at the same time as other grades, a five-and-a-half-hour day, the Illinois School Code requires them to accommodate requests by families who still want to participate in only half-day classes. However, Condon strongly believes those requests will be minimal, if any. 

“We anticipate that the vast majority of families will see the benefit of a full day and that will likely be what they subscribe to,” Condon said. “We are working to ensure that a child who did attend a half-day program would receive a high-quality instructional experience.” 

Despite the majority support, the plan did receive pushback from some community members, including Margie Cekander, who believes high tax bills will follow and that the plan, overall, was rushed. 

“District 90 Board of Education didn’t make a clear case for full-day kindergarten and didn’t include, nor communicate, to the broad community before its vote,” Cekander said. “In 2012 and 2015, D90 Administration’s reported academic benefits didn’t justify full-day kindergarten. In 2015, two current board members voted against it. … D90 should have justified full-day kindergarten to the 75 percent of residents without children in D90 schools.” 

But for the district, with the majority of parents seemingly wanting full-day classes, the expected positive impact will allow children to experience a well-rounded education. 

“The social and emotional piece, developmentally speaking, is essential for children this age,” Hawley said. “When they come into school, it is an opportunity for them to build relationships. … We want to build a positive and long-lasting love for school and their peers, so the socialization piece is really important.” 

Condon said the full-day kindergarten class model will be another way to ensure their students are not only successful at D90 but beyond.  

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