Board mulls extended kindergarten plan

‘Rising Stars’ program intended to fill students’ learning gaps early, before they widen

Full-day kindergarten is poised to launch this fall in Community Consolidated Elementary District 181, at least for some.

At Monday night’s meeting, board members were apprised of the proposed D181 Rising Stars Extended Day Kindergarten pilot program for students needing additional academic support.

“(The program) is intended for any student in our seven elementary schools who has been identified as having additional needs in the academic areas of literacy or mathematics,” said Kathleen Robinson, assistant superintendent of learning. “(Rising Stars) will provide an intense intervention-based program, half-day, that would focus on language and literacy development, numeracy, some vocabulary support, some emergent reading skills, working independently, and gross and fine motor skills as well.”

The program would have a total enrollment of 60 participants and be housed at Elm, Monroe and Prospect schools, each of which would host three morning and three afternoon sections of eight to 12 students per section. Participants would attend their neighborhood school for their general kindergarten class for the other half of the day.

“We do not have space in all seven of our schools to provide extended-day Rising Stars programs,” Robinson said, noting 55 minutes would be scheduled midday for lunch, recess and travel.

Eligibility would be determined through screenings May 31 and June 1 as well as a summer screening for families who move into the district after the end of the school year. All the spots will be filled.

“We will take the 60 students who have the highest needs and who have been identified as not ready for kindergarten or below our entrance standards,” Robinson said.

Board President Margie Kleber praised the department of learning for developing the pilot.

“I think this is a great plan,” Kleber said. “Clearly the reason you’re bringing it to us is because you see a need.”

Robinson responded that a study of several years of past kindergarten data revealed 15 to 17 percent of rising first-graders were not reading at grade level.

“That’s why we’re projecting we need about 50 to 60 seats,” she said, later noting that speech services and social work services will continue to be offered at the home school.

Robinson related that the screenings will furnish educators with helpful information beyond Rising Stars.

“The purpose of the screening is two-fold: it’s to identify students for the program but also to provide us with a baseline for students entering our kindergarten programs and kindergarten classrooms,” she said.

Rising Stars students would be regularly assessed for growth and achievement, Robinson said.

“We will continue to monitor students through their intervention with data that we take from the intervention at specified benchmark periods,” she said.

The estimated $542,000 cost of the pilot program includes $240,000 to add three full-time teachers and $200,000 for transportation. Robinson noted that estimate assumes all 60 students will need district busing, which may not ultimately be the case. The ongoing cost also would be less, officials said, because furniture and instructional resources are one-time expenditures.

Board member Sheetal Rao said, while this is not full-day kindergarten for everyone, it’s an important step.

“The kids that are needing additional support are going to be able to get it,” Rao said.

The board is expected to vote to approve the program at its March 14 meeting.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean