Letter: A compromise for full-day kindergarten in Barrington

To the editor:

As the parents of a child about to enter kindergarten this year, we are writing to express our strong reservations about moving every child in Barrington to a system of full-day kindergarten.

We fully respect the views of those who want full-day kindergarten, and we know these parents have the best interests of our children at heart.  We all want the same thing, which is to ensure that every single child in Barrington receives the very best possible education available.

Barrington schools are the envy of the state. Every year, we see families moving to Barrington to take advantage of our top-notch facilities, dedicated teachers and administrators. Our test and achievement scores at virtually all grade levels rival those of any in the region. It’s why our property values are relatively resilient, even in the face of a devastating economic blow. As a community, we’re proud of this fact, and we should be because this town cares about its schools, its teachers and, most importantly, its students.

So when we hear claims that the lack of a full day kindergarten program will have dire consequences for the future educational success of our kids, perhaps we should just all take a collective deep breath.

Yes, there are new standards in place. These must be met.  Indeed, we face challenges for some kids who need extra help, and these needs must be addressed. But we categorically reject the idea that as a community we’re about to inflict long-term and lasting damage on our students by not moving them all to full-day K. In fact, an argument can be made that putting such young children in school for a full day is detrimental to their social/emotional growth given that it will leave less time for playdates and the pure play environment that has been proven children at this age need.

Furthermore, the choice to implement full-day K comes with significant trade-offs. A full 6.5 hours of school each day for every Kindergartner will cost more than $600,000 according to the School Committee. That is money we as a town simply don’t have.  So it leaves us with three choices:  cut other vital school programs in order to achieve all day K for all our kids, increase taxes or do both.

It’s not like there aren’t competing demands for money within the school systems. The facts are these:  Our incredible teachers face a salary freeze and benefits cuts. We want to bring our kids into the 21st century with an investment in technology that will have untold benefits down the road.  We want to keep our class sizes small so that each child has the opportunity to absorb as much as he or she possibly can in any given day.

Yet all these items are jeopardized when we choose to spend huge sums covering each child for something that may or may not benefit them.

Consider this:  given the high achievement rates by our students in Barrington, the care with which parents involve themselves in their children’s education, the remarkable resources we have in our libraries and other programs, and the dedication of our teachers, do we really believe that each and every child in Barrington must have a full 6.5 hours in a classroom or he or she will suffer irreparable harm?  Speaking for ourselves, we don’t believe that for a second.

But we do know that there are families in our community and children here who really need access to these services, and who will really be disadvantaged and harmed by not receiving a full day of Kindergarten. We should absolutely meet the needs of these families and children – and we can through existing programs.

That’s why we’re proposing a compromise. We used to provide one full-day class in each school. Surely we have the skills and screening methodologies necessary to determine who could really benefit from full-day K and provide it to them. No extra teachers would be required for this plan and those that really needed that full day would get it.

We all want our kids to get a great education and to succeed in school. We just think there’s a smarter way to get there.

Amy and Tad Segal

Barrington

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5 Comments

  1. Kathleen Crain said:

    As one of the many families that recently moved here because of the reputation of the schools, I must tell you how disappointed I am that Full Day Kindergarten remains an issue. We came from a system that had Full Day K, and we found it to be incredibly helpful to our children – academically, but also socially and emotionally. It is a fantastic transition into the world of public schools, and a great majority of the high achieving schools throughout this Country adopted full-day long ago. To suggest that it is just for children who are disadvantaged is simply misguided. All children can benefit from 6 hours of school at this age, especially since it means more time for art, gym, library, music, recess and socialization. Five year olds are eager and ready to learn, excited to form friendships and relationships independent of their parents, and are more than able to do so. With regard to the concept that we will jeopardize other important areas of our schools if we enact full-day kindergarten, the budget will not change for other areas if the additional funds are approved for K at the Town Meeting. And while I agree that we are lacking in other areas (and was shocked to see just how lacking when we arrived here), that is certainly not a reason to dismiss Full-Day Kindergarten. Barrington spends less per-pupil than almost all the other Districts in this State, and frankly, that is hurting our students. Just imagine what our kids could do if we actually gave them the funding they deserved!! While our kids are doing great, the reality is they can do better if we provide them with the tools they need in this 21st century educational landscape. If we wish to remain a high achieving school district, then as a community we must commit to increasing the budget of our school system so that we can meet the needs of all of our students, kindergarteners included.

    • Tad Segal said:

      Dear Ms. Crain:

      Thank you for your response. I fully respect your feelings about FDK. I would just like to correct one item in your response. We did not say nor did we imply that FDK is “just for children who are disadvantaged” – your words.

      What we did say was that “there are families in our community and children here who really need access to these services, and who will really be disadvantaged and harmed by not receiving a full day of Kindergarten.”

      This is an important distinction. We did not characterize these families and kids as being “disadvantaged”. Your response makes it sound as though we think FDK is somehow only for those few who lack the resources or advantages that the rest of us in Barrington enjoy. Far from it. Our idea is that FDK may well be a valuable asset for those who will actually benefit from it. This in no way implies that these individuals are somehow currently “disadvantaged” to begin with. Our point is that a screening process can be implemented whereby FDK is provided to those who benefit from it most, without the costs associated with moving to FDK for all students.

      Thank you for your comment and for engaging in this important discussion. I believe firmly that only through dialogue and mutual respect can we move forward to improve our community for the better.

      Sincerely,

      Tad Segal

  2. Emily Conner said:

    Thank you, Amy & Tad, for such a well articulated opinion. It is not my preference for my daughter to attend full day kindergarten either, and further I also agree that there are other higher priorities in the school district for the funds at this time.

    Even if the funds come from additional money added to the budget, it still swells the budget overall which could limit increases in future budgets. While I strongly believe the saying “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” one must recognize that there is not an infinite pool of money.

    And while I am quite pleased with the rigorous discussion happening now regarding a move to full day kindergarten, I find the timing of these discussions too late for a change this fall. I think it would be wise to listen to the superintendent as he is telling us that he needs another year to implement this program. For our very youngest of elementary students we should make every effort to get it right.

    • Tad Segal said:

      Dear Emily,

      Thanks for the remarks. I fully agree that the timing here is highly problematic. It seems that there is every reason to wait and be deliberate. I am personally unconvinced that the full scope of information and data about the effectiveness of Full Day K has been reviewed. At least it has not been reflected in the discussion thus far.

      To move forward with implementation against the recommendation of the Barrington School Superintendent seems misguided and rash.

      All best,

      Tad

  3. Tricia Adams said:

    Amy and Tad,

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments. However, I respectfully disagree with your proposal that full-day K be implemented less than fully.

    The Subcommittee on All-Day Kindergarten addressed the possibility of partially implementing all-day kindergarten. Once it was determined that under CCSS, students wouldn’t be able to receive the required academic instruction, and spend any substantive amount of time on learning directed toward social and emotional development, an absolutely essential component of kindergarten, the subcommittee deemed partial implementation unacceptable. Additionally, the subcommittee noted that partial implementation based on “need” often has a stigmatizing effect on the students selected. Moreover, partial implementation which allows students to be selected by lottery was deemed to be patently inequitable. The subcommittee found that anything other than full implementation was simply not consistent with the school department’s stated mission of “empowering all students to excel.” It must be noted that the recommendation that full-day kindergarten be implemented is endorsed by all five members of the School Committee, the Superintendent, and Commissioner Gist.

    At last week’s school committee meeting, the Superintendent offered his professional opinion that social-emotional development is a key component to a proper kindergarten education. Ensuring that kindergarteners would have sufficient time for meaningful play and interaction that would benefit their social-emotional development was fundamental to the decision to recommend implementation of full-day kindergarten. Without it, it was feared that the few hours spent in school, in complying with the curriculum requirements of CCSS, would be stressed and harried, and that isn’t the introduction to school that our kindergarteners deserve.

    If a parent believes that his or her child would not be well served by the full-day kindergarten program, that parent may seek alternative educational opportunities for their child. There are a few excellent kindergarten programs within our town. At least one of these, Red Brick School, currently offers a kindergarten program that runs from 8:40 – 1:30 each day. A member of their Board advised me that the school would consider implementing a shorter-day kindergarten program if the families that they served requested one. It is with earnestness that I offer this alternative. I myself decided that the half-day program wouldn’t best serve my children’s needs and chose to send them to Red Brick School for kindergarten. I realize that not everyone has the ability to pay for private kindergarten, but urge those who are interested to investigate possible need-based scholarship opportunities at some of the private schools in the area.
    With respect to the financial issues presented in your letter, I would like to offer the following: The superintendent has determined that the cost of implementing full-day kindergarten would be $633,000. As explicated at last week’s School Committee meeting, this figure includes the cost of hiring 5 additional teachers, 11 aides, meeting the transportation needs of additional students and securing supplies for the new classrooms. Had this figure been included in the budget submitted to the Committee on Appropriations, it is unknown whether the CoA would have accepted it and included it in their proposed budget. It is not unlikely that our town would be facing a conundrum similar to the one we are currently facing.

    The transformation of Barrington’s current half-day kindergarten program to a full-day one provides additional, necessary services for our town, and such services come at a cost. I urge all voters to attend the Financial Town Meeting to support the motion to add $633,000 to the school budget this year. The actual cost to the average Barrington resident would be less than $80 per year. Should the Superintendent and the Finance Director be able to fully implement the program while saving tax dollars, I am confident that they will do so. Please vote in support of the motion to ensure that the implementation of full-day kindergarten, the school department’s technology initiative, and other existing, necessary programs proceed without impediment.

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