PORTSMOUTH — It looks like all-day kindergarten is finally coming to Portsmouth.
The School Committee is expected to approve the much-anticipated plan at its meeting tonight, March 26, at 7 p.m. in the high school library.
Currently the district offers half-day kindergarten classes at Hathaway and Melville schools.
“With the strategic plan, one of the core cornerstones is full-day K,” said David Croston, School Committee chairman, adding that the school department has been trying to get a full-day program implemented for at least eight years. “And it’s absolutely a necessity right now. Since this committee actually sat, this has been one of the core desires of this committee.”
Without all-day kindergarten, said committee member Andrew Kelly, Portsmouth “would be behind the eight ball.”
The committee Monday night approved a $37.42 million spending plan for 2013-2014 which includes full-day kindergarten.
“When we approved this budget we were indirectly sanctioning that program,” said Supt. Lynn Krizic.
Mr. Croston said the expanded kindergarten program is now possible because of two main factors.
“Now we have the space and we have at least enough room in the budget to do what we should have done years ago,” he said.
Space is opening up in the two elementary schools due to declining enrollment, Mr. Croston said.
“It’s a reduction in head count,” he said, adding that total enrollment is expected to go from 2,650 to 2,400 within the next five years. “There’s been a decline of about 45 students a year. And that’s going to be a concern, long-term, for the region.”
According to a report released by the School Committee, the current 2.75 hours per day of kindergarten now offered by the district “is impossibly short.”
“All-day kindergarten will give space and time for social-emotional learning, increased rigor, mastery of skills, and individual and small group instruction. For the first time, we have both the physical space capacity and fiscal resources necessary for this implementation,” states the report.
According to the proposal for the 2013-2014 academic year, Aug. 27 would be the first day for kindergarten students if the plan is approved.
“All-day kindergarten gives students a crucial foundation and the best possible start to their formal education,” states the report, which added that program would involve 585 additional hours of instruction a year.
The report pointed out the benefits of an all-day kindergarten program:
• a more flexible and individualized learning environment.
• the opportunity for richer understanding of literacy and math
• deeper cross-curriculum connections.
• more time in small groups and in one-on-one instruction.
• the opportunity to learn appropriate behavior through social-emotional learning.
• stronger relationships and partnerships among students, teachers and parents.
The report also pointed out the tentative time allocation between a half-day program and a full-day one. A full-day program would include 90 minutes each of science and social studies, compared to 20 minutes each in a half-day program. There would also more time allocated for math, art, music, physical education and, unlike in a half-day program, students would also have lunch, recess and exploratory time.
Cost to district
As far as the program’s cost to the district, all-day kindergarten would require:
• 3.5 new full-time kindergarten teachers, although the net increase would actually be 2.9 teachers.
• $24,000 for instructional materials and supplies for three classrooms.
• $30,000 for equipment for three classrooms.
• $30,000 for technology for three classrooms.
• $4,500 for 140 hours of curriculum writing and professional development for seven kindergarten teachers.
The report concludes by saying that the district can’t afford not to put an all-day kindergarten program in place.
“Education is changing. Students will need to learn and master a much more rigorous curriculum through the Common Core Standards,” states the report. “We are a high-performing school district and all-day kindergarten will be one of the pieces necessary to ensure we remain high-performing.”