The Great Neck Public Schools proposal to establish a full-day Kindergarten, instead of the current mix of part-time days and full days, met with much support, and some strong opposition too, when the issue was broached at the March 3 board of education meeting. Supporters cited studies showing a better program with full days, and some spoke to moving ahead with the times and offering working parents an opportunity for more school hours for their children. Detractors questioned the wisdom of losing the small group lessons on extended days and asked for more unstructured school time for children to play and just be themselves.
Currently, Great Neck kindergarten students participate in a program that includes the children remaining with their class for a full day (9:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.) twice a week, with each child remaining for one small group afternoon session once a week. The remaining two days, the Kindergarten children are dismissed at 12:40 p.m.
Superintendent of Schools Ronald Friedman said that the issue has been studied in depth, to see how they could possibly "enhance" the Kindergarten program. The result of the study was the full-day Kindergarten proposal.
"We have been looking at this issue for two years," stated Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz.
The proposal includes a full-day Kindergarten program that maintains small group sessions, and by use of current special area teachers, comes at no additional cost to the district. In fact, by eliminating the mid-day buses, there could be a savings to the district of as much as $75,000.
Terry Horowitz, assistant superintendent for instruction and curriculum, said that a school district committee has studied the issue for a few years, starting in the 2006-2007 school year, when parent letters expressed an interest. However, following that review, the desire for small group instruction was still strong and even some school board delegates spoke up, stating their own appreciation of the district's unique Kindergarten program. The Board of Education then decided that they wanted to continue to look at a full-day Kindergarten, but wanted to find a way to preserve the small group experience. In fact, this study became a board goal. Ms. Horowitz said that following careful study, the steering committee was able to present a full-day Kindergarten program proposal that would still preserve the small group experience, and this would be done at no cost to the district.
Longtime district Kindergarten teacher Beth Schneider, a member of the steering committee, said that the proposal is "a compromise from what we have." She did state though, that, as ever, the goal is to benefit the children, and that the teachers and the entire district "understands the needs of the community." Ms. Schneider said that they would "try to make this work for everybody."
JFK Principal Sue Kincaid, another committee member, stated that "over time things change," and she noted that current research points to a full-day program. Parents and research do state that five full-days a week promotes consistency and eliminates confusion for young students. Additionally, by the time they enter Kindergarten, many children have already participated in full-day pre-school programs. As a result, some parents enroll their children in private full-day Kindergarten programs, although they most often do not find the educational value up to the standards of the Great Neck Public Schools.
Dr. Kincaid also spoke of the New York State learning standards and how this covers all curriculum areas. One concern that leans towards a full-day program, according to Dr. Kincaid, is the fact that the full day "responds to the Limited English Proficient students." As well, all students would have new hours for enrichment; currently some can afford after-school specialty programs, but some cannot. She also discussed the help a full-day program would afford two-working-parent households, as well as the fact of the growing number of full-day Kindergarten programs.
JFK teacher Maureen Gaines explained that the steering committee worked to plan a program that "maintains the core of the current program." There would be two more hours of lunch per week, plus two-and-a-half more hours of instruction time. This equates to almost 30 days of additional school time per school year. The positive impact on improved reading skills is another factor that speaks for the full day.
Several parents addressed the proposal, with about three quarters speaking for the program, and the rest in opposition. Those in opposition were told that Kindergarten is not state mandated and, should the proposal be adopted, parents could take their children home early; no parents thought this would be a viable solution. Some opponents were upset that they had not heard about the committee, the studies, nor the proposal until just prior to the board meeting.
At the end of the long discussion, Dr. Friedman spoke of how "things change," and he stated that his 30 years of experience all point to the positives of a full-day Kindergarten, included more play time for children and a more relaxed program with more relaxed children. He said that the program does allow children to "unfold at their own pace."
For Dr. Friedman, the question is "What makes the most sense for the most children?" His answer is "a full-day Kindergarten program."
Dr. Friedman also noted that, in the past, the district's Kindergarten teachers were opposed to such a proposal, but that has changed too. He assured that the program "would be continued to be looked at," and that "we will watch individual needs," as always.
Ms. Berkowitz also reassured that "nothing is done in a vacuum ... we revisit everything to see if it works, for the benefit of the children."
The full-day Kindergarten program proposal will be discussed again at the board of education's March 16 meeting, with the hopes of making a decision on that day in order to implement the program for this coming September.