Kindergarten will have a new look in the South Whidbey School District next fall.
For the first time in its history, the district will offer full-day kindergarten five days per week — at no cost to parents.
District Superintendent Fred McCarthy said Thursday the change reflects trends in other school districts and is in keeping with a nationwide emphasis on early childhood education.
“Children come into kindergarten with a wide range of skills and experiences,” said McCarthy, who early in his career taught 5-year-olds himself.
“It’s a very teachable age,” he added. “This is an opportunity to give them a firm foundation in the basics, such as reading, writing and math, at a time when they’re eager to learn.”
McCarthy said school board members, in endorsing the change, decided it would be a way to improve student achievement, and to attract more families into the district, perhaps reversing the recent trend of sustained enrollment decline.
The new kindergarten format will replace one that has been in place in the district for several years and was originally seen as a way to save on transportation costs.
“It’s time for a change,” said Jamie Boyd, South Whidbey Elementary School principal, who with a group of parents and teachers compiled the data that persuaded the school board to try the new format.
“Teachers and the whole staff are really jazzed,” she said.
Currently, parents of kindergartners choose one of three options. Students either attend full school days on Mondays and Wednesdays and a half-day Friday mornings, or they attend full days on Tuesdays and Thursdays and half-days Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, parents who want their children to attend all-day kindergarten five days per week pay $250 per month per child.
In the new format, parents also will have the option to send their kindergartners to school half-time — either mornings or afternoons — at no cost,
but parents will be required to provide mid-day transportation, picking up after the morning session, or dropping off for the afternoon session.
Bus service will continue to be offered mornings and afternoons.
McCarthy said the new program will cost the district an additional $144,000 for the next school year, which will come from its local levy funds. The amount is equivalent to the salaries and benefits of 1.8 teachers, he said.
McCarthy said that because money for the new program is coming from local taxpayers, new kindergarten students who transfer into the district in mid-year will be required to pay $250 per month per child for the remainder of the year for full-time enrollment.
“We feel they should pay their share,” he said.
McCarthy acknowledged that additional spending for kindergarten will mean less money available for other things, but said the projects effected have yet to be determined.
“The board has agreed to make the program a priority,” he said of the new kindergarten format.
McCarthy said officials considered a return to the traditional kindergarten program offering either morning sessions or afternoon sessions five days per week. But the result would be an increase of $32,000 in transportation costs “with no increase in academic learning time.”
McCarthy also said each full-time kindergarten student would generate $5,400 in state funds to the district, double what half-time kindergartners generate now. State compensation to the district is based on enrollment.
As of last month, the district had 103 kindergartners enrolled, Boyd said. She said until registration is complete, the number of kindergartners signing up for the next school year “would only be a guess.”
Kindergarten registration is scheduled for next Thursday, May 12.
McCarthy said the district projects 1,488 students and 85 teachers for the next school year, continuing an enrollment decline that began in 2009 and has forced a major budget reduction that included staff layoffs.
He said that despite budget woes, emphasis on kindergarten education may establish a learning ethic in young students that will carry through the remainder of their time in school, “breaking the pattern of failure that materializes in many school systems.”
“We’re hearing wonderful things from the community,” Boyd said of the new format.
She said early public reaction was more than positive when an announcement about the change to all-day sessions at no charge was made at a kindergarten information meeting late last month.
“They erupted in applause,” Boyd said. “We didn’t expect that.”
For more information about the new kindergarten program, call Boyd at 221-4605.