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The Pros of All-Day Kindergarten

The program pays off in the long run, in more ways than one.

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.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Veronica and Christopher Lenzen

Trumbull, CT 

Bill Holden January 05, 2012 at 04:27 AM
"It has been said..." please cite your source so we can be assured it is a credible source and not just someone who campaigned to defeat all three questions on the ballot. Yes, the prior referendum requirements were much more restrictive, which is why the commission felt a change was needed. I'm still surprised that none of the proponents of increased spending didn't try to bring the matter before the public for a vote. While unsuccessful, opponents of the high school renovation extravaganza made an effort to obtain the roughly 2300 to 2400 signatures within 20 days. They were a group of citizens without any formal organization from which to draw supporters, but they made the effort.
Richard W. White January 05, 2012 at 05:08 AM
"It has been said..." Mr. Friedson was the first to suggest that there could be both a Budget Referendum to lower the budget and line item referendum to raise (or lower) a specific line item. I believe it was at one of the L&A working sessions, but it might have been a TC meeting. Are you suggesting that this can't happen?
Kristy Waizenegger January 05, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Either we are committed to FDK or not. If we want it, then we'll make it happen. That is what commitment means. Are you, and others, looking at the proposed restorations carefully? Just because it was cut doesn't necessarily mean it should automatically come back - each item should be reviewed for its true impact. If there is impact to student achievement then I see the argument but if it's just an inconvenience then we should continue to do without. It still amazes me that 1% of the budget could be causing such a stir. We were all told that the $500,000 returned was just a miniscule portion of the budget when that money was returned - so why now is 1% so much money? FDK should be the last thing to go using that logic. Either it's a lot of money or it's a miniscule portion of the budget, we can't have it both ways.
Tom Kelly January 05, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Kristy, the 1% of the budget argument does not fly at all. Look at how much of the BOE budget is TRULY discretionary. Peel out the 81% of the budget that is salary and benefits. Take out the special education costs, and all the state and federal mandates. Take out the $5 million we pay for school bus transportation. Take out all the energy costs. Then you can find the actual discretionary items....and you get back to the same list of things that are the "cut" lists every year. TAG, Athletics, Curriculum, Equipment, some staff....this is not rocket science....but let's be fair about FDK...it's a brand new program, and a HUGE percentage of the overall discretionary portion of the budget. Regarding whether we are "committed" to FDK, the promises have been made by your party in two consecutive election campaigns, by your BOE candidates and members, and by our First Selectman. Commitment isn't determined by political rhetoric, and that goes for me, too. Actions speak louder than words. I voted for full funding of FDK in the BOE recommended budget. We'll soon find out how much the First Selectman and your party are willing to allocate to education, and then everyone will see if you keep your promise regarding FDK. I'll remain hopeful, but the questions are already coming from some of your elected leaders about whether we can "phase in" FDK over 2 years....sounds like some are either equivocating already, or never supported it in the first place.
Tom Kelly January 05, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Regardless of where we end up on FDK and the education budget, it is not an easy job to try to allocate finite resources, especially in a down economy and I know Ms. Waizenegger is a very conscientious and diligent Councilwoman and I wish her and all of the Trumbull elected representatives well as they review the budget and thank them for their service to the town.
Kristy Waizenegger January 05, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Sadly, just as I suspected - political jockeying. Good to know but not surprising.
Dana January 05, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Tom, I believe Mike Ward said at the meeting on Tuesday night that he had questioned phasing in the program as well, the question seems to be coming from both sides of the aisle.
Tom Kelly January 05, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Dana, the questions that Mr. Iassogna received did not come from Mike Ward. I'll leave it at that. Phasing in FDK would be a disaster, and potentially not legal. It would only allows a FDK program for those students who were lucky enough to be selected by lottery. There is only one chance for kindergarten, so if you don't get fortunate and get picked, there will be also be a learning differential between those who were picked and who weren't. And what happens if the funding is not available in the second year of the phase-in? You will have a permanent system whereby some are able to go to FDK are some are not? That is not fair and I would never support it. I am only one Board member, so I do not speak for the BOE, but I believe that would be patently unfair.
Dana January 05, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Tom, I am not saying that I agree with a phase in, but I know what I heard at the meeting. He followed up by saying programs of this size are usually done over a phased implementation. Just checked my notes and happy to confirm when it is on tv.
Joan January 05, 2012 at 01:15 PM
You're right, Kristy. It is disappointing the way Herbst has used FDK as a "political football." Otherwise, why did he repeatedly and (my opinion) knowingly misstate its true cost in order to win re-election?
SoccerMom January 05, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Well said Joan. Thanks for being the voice of reason.
SoccerMom January 05, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Well said.
Trumbullparent January 05, 2012 at 09:03 PM
The only disingenuous people in this matter are Tim Herbst and his ardent supporters who cry dire economic times out of one side of their mouths and ADK for almost $1 mill. NOW out of the other side. It makes no sense. He never had any intent to implement ADK and only used it to get himself re-elected. Watch and see. And of course the BOE and Mr. Iassogna support it! No one disputes this. What we dispute are the facts that this republican team in Trumbull will never pass an increase large enough to fund what they need to (salaries, benefits, mandates, transportation, energy, etc.) AND restore the items lost AND fund a new program of ADK that will take up almost 1% of the increase. Again, all political games and at the cost of our children. I think you will be hard pressed to find any parent in town who does not support having an ADK in Trumbull. However, many parents know that the ONLY way ADK will happen this year is if we see more cuts and teaching positions lost in grades 1-12 and that is why so many of us are against ADK now. It makes no sense to implement it now.
Alexander B. C. January 05, 2012 at 09:37 PM
If you want ADK then You pay for your kids. Not me.
JR January 05, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Sounds like a "credible source" to me.
JR January 05, 2012 at 10:35 PM
klw, You have become quite political. What happened to your "wants vs. needs" mantra?
JR January 05, 2012 at 10:37 PM
I don't drive, so I don't want to pay for road maintenance and plowing. Or all that wasted yellow paint.
Kristy Waizenegger January 05, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Hi JR - I have heard from enough experts to say that FDK is arguably a need. To me, extra secretaries are a want.
Joan January 06, 2012 at 03:16 AM
By "extra secretaries," are you referring to the two school secretaries who were proposed to be restored to this year's budget? if so, I would hardly call them a "want" and not a "need." Anyone who has spent any time at all working in a school office--particularly at the elementary or middle school level--can attest to the countless duties performed by school secretaries to assure the smooth running of the school. Students, parents, teachers, administrators all depend heavily on their support.
Kristy Waizenegger January 06, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Joan, I completely understand where you are coming from and I am not questioning the value of these individuals in our schools. What I'm saying is that sometimes we all have to sacrifice and do without, particularly if it means other things that directly impact student achivement may be cut.
Marty Isaac January 06, 2012 at 01:20 PM
I would like to see more discussion on two aspects of ADK: 1) Long term impact to the students 2) A self-funding option. I applaud the Lenzen's for an extremely well written argument for ADK. On the first point, my recollection of research on this topic was that virtually all gains for the student were gone by 3rd grade (I'm sure there are some studies that contrast this point of view -- but what I saw when I looked a few months ago confirmed for me that ADK did not have long lasting gains). That said, it surely is not harmful and I do see benefits to it. Which brings me to the 2nd point -- funding. Why can't we initiate an ADK that is funded by the parents that want ADK? Is this really so different than some non-curricular activities that parents choose to fund for their children (my family spent several thousand dollars for extra curricular sports programs that were not funded by the school when my children were younger; I am aware of other families that spend thousands of dollars on theater training programs outside of the school environment). My point is, this should be an option. Or, perhaps the town could partially subsidize ADK and have parents that want this option have a "pay to participate" model -- again, similar to how we fund many high school sports. Why is this not on the table? Finally, one more out of the box idea: We could just pay for ADK by raising taxes (while I would be an advocate for this, I'm sure I would be in the minority).
trumbulite09 January 06, 2012 at 02:08 PM
This is a well thought out article and I commend you for going to the meetings this year. However, I warn, watch what you wish for. It is not a matter of people wanting Full Day Kindergarten, it is a matter of how to pay for it. There is more behind the scenes that you do not know if you have only been going to the meetings the past few months. The programs you mention in your article were all from a democrat administration which has been deeply criticized for it, at the expense of losing the FS office. The current administration and the majority on the Town Council and Finance Board are Republicans. Even during the campaign said they would support all day kindergarten but not with an increase to the budget. I have been attending the meetings for the past two budget seasons. It has been grueling and disheartening. Even when campaigning the Republican suggestion for funding all day kindergarten was redistricting or splitting the schools by grade level. Finally, you do not have to look at Indiana for research on how full-time and part-time kindergarten affects test scores. In your article, you mentioned, Greenwich, Darien, Bridgeport, Stamford however, did you know that Tashua School out ranked almost all of the schools in these towns and most in CT (Jane Ryan #14 Tashua #18) this is based on the last two years of CMT Reading and Math I support all day Kindergarten, If the funds are in addition to the budget not part of an already stretched budget.
trumbulite09 January 06, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Mary – I agree something like TECEC. The state funds for those that definitely need it and those that wish to also have it pay a moderate fee.
Kristy Waizenegger January 06, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Using that logic, what are your thoughts on asking TECEC studens to pay part of the cost? How about TAG participants?
Marty Isaac January 06, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Just to be clear -- the comments about self-funding (above) are from Marty (Martin) Isaac -- not my lovely spouse Mary (she actually disagrees with me on this issue so I want it to be clear). Please direct any mean thoughts to me :)
mary isaac January 06, 2012 at 05:14 PM
To be clear, I do not support extended/full day kindergarten in lieu of restorations of previously lost programs and staffing. What I disagree with my husband on (well, that would be many things...) is passing the cost of extended/full day onto parents. I believe that this would be the same thing as asking parents of children in AP classes to offset teacher costs at that level.
mary isaac January 06, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Separately, regarding the comments above about the secretaries at the elementary schools - These women deal with hundreds of children and staff on a daily basis - this is not a business that runs itself but a mini-town at each school. One of the many responsibilities of the office secretary is to take care of attendance and check on any absent children whose parent/guardian has not called them out sick. This is quite a time consuming process, hampered by the fact that there is only one secretary in the office attempting to multi-task while attending to this required procedure. How much longer does it now take the secretaries to finish making these calls? What is the consequence of a parent thinking that their child got on the bus and went to school only to find out, perhaps hours later due to a harried morning in the office, that this was not the case. Times have changed and security is an issue and a need not a want. Anyone who thinks that our school secretaries are quietly typing away, sipping coffee all day, really should ask one of these women what their responsibilities are day to day. I'm sure you will be a bit amazed.
trumbulite09 January 06, 2012 at 06:04 PM
PIP Students or children that are at TECEC as role model students and do not need any special services do pay for TECEC. That was my point. My children got a great education at TECEC and I had no problem paying for it. The children with special needs do not pay for it, nor should they in my opinion.
John F January 06, 2012 at 10:09 PM
We are really in a perdicament in this town: a large school-age population (i.e. 6 elementray schools, rising enrollment at both middle schools and the high school (over 2200 now), aging buildings, a thin infrastructure of educational support and intervention, high taxes, and a community that hates change! All the key ingredients for a community and school system that is going to become less competitive in the future and lose some of its value. Some of these issues have been neglected for years and I fear either will get worse or I will spend my work lifetime correcting.
Lisa Labella January 06, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Marty, the CT state constitution guarantees FREE public education, and the general statutes require kindergarten.

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