As a Trumbull taxpayer, and parents of two children, my husband and I felt it was important to get involved in the budget process this year, so we both attended, and I spoke at several Board of Education meetings in November and December. I also attended the recent tri-Board meeting at Town Hall. In the wake of all these meetings, and in light of the fact that the Trumbull Board of Education will be presenting its budget in a few days, we would like to make a few points regarding the upcoming 2012-2013 budget season.
Trumbull High School has some very legitimate concerns. I praise Dr. Robert Tremaglio on his presentation to the Board of Education in December. He obviously takes his charge as principal very seriously, and I look forward to the time, about 10 years from now, when my daughter will have the benefit of all he’s doing to make Trumbull High a thriving city unto itself. There is a genuine need for more staff at the high school level (a science teacher, a guidance counselor, more custodial staff, and security). I hope that the Board sees the value in this investment, and is able to find money to allocate for these new requests, as the superintendent referred to them during a meeting in December.
The restorations requested are important, too. Secretaries at the elementary level are something I support whole-heartedly, as my daughter is currently enrolled in one of the schools. As one of the principals pointed out at a Board of Education Meeting, we as parents literally had to be trained, or re-trained, as it were, on how to report absences, clarify transportation requirements, and retrieve our children, should the need arise. All of this needed to be done because the volume of correspondence and information was just too much for the office to handle with just one person. Things are running more smoothly now, but as the principals have already pointed out, it’s the status quo, and they are making do. In my opinion, “making do” isn’t good enough.
The need for restoration of a Speech Language Pathologist is also vital. In my humble opinion, Dr. McGrath was correct, the continuity within Special Education is exceptionally important, and adding a Speech pathologist would help with the continuity. I have lived in Connecticut since I began working at a private special education facility in January 1998. I am a Professionally Certified Special Educator in the state of Connecticut. In addition to being an advocate for my own children, I will always be a proponent of proper services for Special Education students.
As the Board considers new needs and restorations, we ask that they please give equal weight to the “new” needs of the High School AND to the “new” needs of the incoming Kindergarteners. Time and time again, we hear people say it’s not a question of educational philosophy; almost everyone wants Full Day Kindergarten, it just can’t be a priority in this economic climate. We respectfully disagree, and would like to take a moment to explain why the incoming kindergarten population absolutely must be one of the priorities in this budget.
Our children, as well as many others across the Trumbull School District are entering kindergarten with quite a bit of education and school experience already under their belts. Our daughter received, and our son continues to receive, nearly 50 hours a week of childcare services from a highly regarded private facility in the area. The schedule at this facility is comprised of a variety of activities, leading up to a total of nearly 3 hours of instructional time each day (offered in increasing amounts from infancy thru age 4). The instructional time includes circle time, calendar skills, learning centers, and hands-on activities. The educational offerings are available 5 days a week, 52 weeks out of the year, with closings only on major holidays. It was our choice to place our children there, and we don’t regret it.
This September, our daughter started kindergarten at Tashua Elementary. Her educational day begins at 8:35 and ends at 11:47. That is only 3.2 hours of time in the classroom, of which I would estimate 50% of the time is spent on actual academic instructional time, due to snack, transitions, and other activities not directly related to academic instruction. That works out to about 1.6 hours of academic instruction. This doesn't even begin to reflect the amount of time lost to legal days, school closings, delays, and early dismissals, which dramatically decrease teaching time as well. While we were concerned about the effectiveness of such a program, we are proponents of public education, and we felt that at this time, it was more important for our daughter to have the public school experience, and to give the program the benefit of the doubt. We respect our daughter’s teacher tremendously. As an educator myself, I give her kudos for her sincere effort to meet my child’s needs in the short period of time allowed. We are also confident that the afternoon TLC kindergarten program our daughter attends is doing it’s best to continue to build on the foundations that are laid out during her morning instructional time. While TLC makes an attempt to mirror the kindergarten curriculum, and tries to provide a supportive learning environment for the children, it is not a Board of Education program, and it by no means provides the high level of educational excellence that we know our Trumbull teaching staff is capable of. This program also requires a lot of transition time, which is time on task lost to extraneous movement, and a breakdown of consistency. It is NOT a viable, equitable alternative to full day kindergarten, as some have proposed. We mean no disrespect to TLC and it’s employees. Our daughter, and our family, have met some wonderful people there this fall, and we will continue to use the program for our before and after school needs as the years progress.
My husband and I have challenged the Board of Education to prove to us, and the other parents in this district, how it is that the current kindergarten timeframe actually meets the standards of quality education for all children. In most cases, Board of Education members have agreed that more time would be beneficial, but the current program is doing “OK.” We would suggest that all of Trumbull’s youth are doing “OK” in school. However, based on all of the excellent points made by so many parents over the past few weeks, “OK” isn’t good enough; for any of the students, including the kindergarteners.
If our daughter were in a full day kindergarten program (hypothetically), she would spend more time on educational activities, and less time transitioning from program to program. There would be more time to plan and implement projects, reinforce concepts taught, and more time to lay the foundations for future academic and social expectations. There would be a more consistent teaching approach from one single teacher, and our daughter would have the opportunity to more fully benefit from the hidden curriculum within a full day kindergarten classroom (the social-emotional component). Her teacher would have more time to reinforce the learning that is taking place, and she would be able to offer more individualized instructional support to those who need it. She would also have the time to adequately assess, teach, and evaluate her students, while fulfilling the extensive requirements of the Common Core State Standards.
There are other benefits, as well. Full-day kindergarten enables teachers to assess students’ needs and abilities more effectively, leading to early intervention. Since children spend more time in a formal school setting in full-day kindergarten, teachers have more time to get to know students, and to work with specialists to identify and evaluate their needs, skills and abilities. School personnel can then work with parents to develop plans to address children’s learning challenges early. This saves money and resources over the long term, and increases the odds that children will be successful later in school. As an added bonus, students already receiving special education services would now have the benefit of 6 hours of time in which to receive intervention. They could receive those services in one building, with continuity, and they would have more time with their typical peers, more time for pullout services, itinerant services, etc.
Many people may question whether the educational benefits of full day kindergarten are actually worthwhile. Longitudinal data demonstrate that children in full-day classes show greater reading and mathematics achievement gains than those in half-day classes. In their landmark longitudinal study of full-day versus half-day kindergarten, researchers Jill Walston and Jerry West found that students in full-day classes learned more in reading and mathematics than students in half-day classes—after adjusting for differences in race, poverty status and fall achievement levels, among other things. All students experienced learning gains. By giving students and teachers more quality time to engage in constructive learning activities, full-day kindergarten benefits everyone.
In addition, full-day kindergarten can produce long-term educational gains. In a study comparing national and Indiana research on full-day and half-day kindergarten programs, researchers found that compared to half-day kindergarten, full-day kindergarten leads to greater short-term and long-term gains. In one Indiana district, for example, students in full-day kindergarten received significantly higher basic skills test scores in the third, fifth and seventh grades than students who attended half-day or did not attend kindergarten at all. It was noted at the tri-board meeting this past week that 3rd grade is considered the indicator year for future reading success. Full-day kindergarten has also helped to narrow achievement gaps between groups of students. Even if the overall gain is found to level off by the end of elementary school, is it fair to make children wait that long to catch up to their peers? The money saved from lower grade retention, fewer reading and math specialists, and earlier special education intervention will provide expedited return on the initial investment of full day kindergarten.
To those of you who still worry that FDK is not a prudent expense, recent research has demonstrated that funds invested in quality early education programs produce powerful returns on investment. Viewing half-day kindergarten as a vehicle for saving money is shortsighted. In recent years, a number of researchers have begun doing economic analyses of early childhood education programs. They are finding that investments in quality early childhood programs generate returns of 3-to-1 or even higher— that’s at least $3 for every $1 invested. If you do the math, the $873,730 invested this year would provide a potential return of $2,621,190. Robert Lynch, a researcher who has extensively studied this issue, points out, “Even economists who are particularly skeptical about government programs make an exception for high-quality early childhood development programs.” By helping to develop students’ academic abilities, and by improving their social and emotional skills, effective early childhood programs can lower grade retention and dropout rates.
As taxpayers, we staunchly support the addition of full day kindergarten to the Trumbull Public Schools. After the $65,000,000 high school renovation, $10,000,000 auditorium, $5,000,000 senior lounge, $35,000,000 elementary school and $8,000,000 Early Childhood Learning Center, it would seem that the appropriation of less than 1 percent of the Board of Education budget for full day kindergarten is an acceptable request. We understand the difference between capital expenses and ongoing operating expenses such as full day kindergarten. We merely wish to point out what the town has been willing to pay for in the past. Even with state reimbursement for the HS renovations, it will take years for full day kindergarten to cost as much, and the return on investment full day kindergarten has been shown to provide makes it even more worthwhile.
As a town, we would be joining an extensive list of other towns in Fairfield County who have already begun providing full day kindergarten: Bridgeport, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, and Weston. The towns of Brookfield, Redding, Westport, and Wilton provide extended day services. The ONLY towns in Fairfield County that do not offer any kind of extended or full-day kindergarten program are Bethel, Monroe, Newtown, Shelton, and Trumbull. Some of those towns have already begun looking into the feasibility of incorporating it, as well.
Our daughter will remain in the educational setting we have chosen for her, and as her parents, we will accept our responsibility to make the best of it, along with her talented teachers and other school/TLC staff. However, we are also aware of our responsibility to our son, now 2, who will be entering kindergarten in September of 2014. We firmly believe that it is in his best interest to support the move toward full day kindergarten, and we will continue to do so over the next 3 years. As we outlined earlier, we continue to advocate for improvements in all levels of education. The issue for us is not which age group should get the money. The issue is whether or not the Board of Education will be able to give equal weight to all initiatives, restorations, and new requests. This is not any easy task. We do not envy them, or the challenges they face, and they have our utmost appreciation and respect as they plod ahead.
Finally, we would like to point out that sometimes the benefits of the items the Board of Education chooses to fund will not be tangible, they will just be the right thing to do. We can’t guarantee better SAT scores, or more college acceptances from Full-Day Kindergarten. However, we can guarantee that the Board of Education will be doing something to improve the future of our schools, our town, and most importantly, the future for our children.
Veronica and Christopher Lenzen