D181 parents want full-day kindergarten

Parents who attended the Community Consolidated School District 181 meeting Monday were in full agreement — they want full-day kindergarten.

Some 50 people, mostly moms, packed the room to hear a discussion about the possibility of implementing an extended or full-day kindergarten in the district. Eighteen spoke in favor of such a program, saying it will offer children an academic advantage and will give working parents an option other than attending private school or piecing together before- or after-school care.

Lauren Allan, whose daughter is in the extended-day Rising Stars pilot program, said the additional time at school has made a difference in her daughter’s test scores.

“We feel that this instrumental instruction will positively affect our daughter’s educational career and set her up for continued success,” she said.

Lara Massouras, PTO co-president at Monroe School, said her son’s IEP program means he is pulled out of instruction for services 20 percent of the time. If he were in kindergarten full-time, that percentage would be cut in half.

She and other parents also cited need to enroll their children in outside programs, which are often expensive.

“Kindergarten families are taking it upon themselves to get kindergarten enrichment, which the district is not supporting,” Massouras said.

Laura Knisley, who has one son in kindergarten and one in preschool, said the demands of modern kindergarten require a longer day.

“To say that I have been unsatisfied with half-day kindergarten in this district would be an understatement,” she said. “My son, who has always loved school, complains regularly about kindergarten because it’s essentially all work and no play.”

She also said the financial burden for working families who need child care is substantial.

“For this community to feel inclusive, particularly of women and their various choices and needs, I believe full-day kindergarten must be an option,” she said.

The district, which currently has 287 kindergartners taught by 11.5 full-time equivalents, last discussed full-day kindergarten in 2013. At that time, survey respondents ranked it 10th on a list of priority items.

“Since then the board and the administration has probably let this topic lay dormant for much too long,” Superintendent Hector Garcia said.

Many parents and board members noted the community has changed over the past decade.

Board member Sheetal Rao said she empathizes with families who have to piecemeal care for kids and also recognizes the cost, space and staffing considerations that will come into play.

“Looking at our peer schools and looking at how the community has changed and looking at the needs of families in the community, I think it’s great we’re looking at this again,” Rao said. “I think we definitely have to find a way to make this happen.”

Garcia said he will return to the board in February with a choice one of two options — have the administration make a recommendation about full-day kindergarten or establish an ad hoc committee to study the issue. Either path will include community input, officials said.

Garcia noted the decision has academic and financial implications. Building a new classroom at each school could cost up to $37 million, with an annual operating cost of $4.4 million. Construction could take 21 to 27 months.

Board member Margie Kleber said she would like to see a short-term and a long-term option.

“Twenty-one to 27 months is way too long to wait,” she said, garnering applause from the audience. “I just don’t think we can wait that long.”

Ashley Gott, a mom of four and Oak School PTO executive board member, said parents are willing to help the board evaluate the possibilities.

“We have a community full of professionals, very knowledgeable, very strong people. Let us help you make an educated decision,” she said.

Board member Grace Shin, a former first-grade teacher, encouraged everyone to take the time to find the best solution.

“I just want this to be done right,” she said.

“We all do,” Garcia said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean