York Suburban board discusses full-day kindergarten

Alyssa Pressler
  • The school board discussed the possibility of extending its half-day kindergarten program to full-day.
  • The board will vote on the measure at its Dec. 19 meeting.

The York Suburban School District administration has recommended that the school board approve full-day kindergarten for the 2017-18 school year.

The decision has been in the works for about a month. At the end of October, the district held a public meeting to discuss the pros and cons of full-day kindergarten before a decision was made on whether to recommend the initiative. Superintendent Shelly Merkle and a group of administrators who were exploring the option decided to recommend the board approve full-day kindergarten.

Suburban students in kindergarten attend school for 2½ hours each day. One group of students goes in the morning while another attends in the afternoon. One full-day kindergarten classroom is offered in each elementary school for students who need extra assistance.

York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle

The board heard a presentation from Merkle, Assistant Superintendent Patricia Maloney, Yorkshire Elementary Principal Kim Stoltz and Valley View Elementary Principal Tawn Ketterman giving the same information that was presented to the public in October.

At last month's meeting, Merkle said the district was exploring the option because teachers felt they were rushing students to grasp Common Core skills. She stressed that no additional content would be added to the subjects that kindergartners work on, but that with a full-day program the teachers would be able to take their time, delve deeper into subjects and allow students to work at their own pace.

York Suburban considers full-day kindergarten

Cost: Questions from the board largely had to do with the cost of the program, which Merkle has admitted would be significant.

Merkle explained that the goal would be to hire five new teachers for full-day kindergarten, which would be most of the cost. Board member Ellen Freireich asked if additional support staff or maintenance staff would need to be hired, which would not be probable, according to Merkle.

Some board members, such as Michael Thoman, weren’t convinced.

“I would certainly hope that before we’re supposed to vote on this in December we have hard numbers to look at,” Thoman said. “I want a hard, hard look at this, and I want to see some idea for a budget. Without those, I couldn’t possibly vote on this.”

Thoman and others expressed concern that moving from a 2½-hour day to a full seven-hour day could make it difficult for children to stay focused. Merkle and other board members said the day would be broken up with constant movement and that the district's kindergarten staff is experienced enough to know how to handle restless students.

“The vast majority of school districts and private schools have full-day kindergarten,” board member Lois Ann Schroeder said. “They have figured out how to keep them sitting still. It’s fair to say we have qualified professionals that know how to do that.”

Public opinions: After the board presented questions and concerns, the public had a chance to ask questions and make comments about the initiative. There were mixed opinions.

Alexis Gordon, who lives on Country Club Road and has a daughter in kindergarten in the district and another daughter who will attend kindergarten in the 2017-18 school year, was in support of full-day kindergarten. She said she volunteers in kindergarten classes, and some students can’t even hold a pencil. A full day, she argued, would give students more time to work on such things as fine motor skills.

To the contrary, Geri Thoman, wife of Michael Thoman, felt the funds for full-day kindergarten could be better allotted elsewhere in the district.

“What problem are we trying to solve?” she asked. “What is broken that full-day kindergarten will fix?”

Merkle said after the meeting had concluded that she felt it had gone well.

“It’s great to have healthy discussion,” she said. “The administration firmly believes in the program, but there’s a lot of factors to consider.”

More information will be made available to the school board and the public at the planning meeting Dec. 5. The school board will vote on the program Dec. 19.