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York Suburban approves full-day kindergarten
The York Suburban School District will be moving to a full-day kindergarten program next fall.
At Monday night's school board meeting, the board ended several months of discussions by approving full-day kindergarten in the district. The vote was 8-1, with board member Michael Thoman voting no, according to Superintendent Shelly Merkle.
"We're very excited about the prospect of full-day kindergarten for all students," Merkle said. "I think it will really be of value to the students, and I think the larger community will benefit."
Talks of full-day kindergarten in the district began in October, when administrators held a public meeting to present research and discuss options. The school board discussed the possibility at the Nov. 21 board meeting.
Thoman was wary of the idea then, too.
“I would certainly hope that before we’re supposed to vote on this in December we have hard numbers to look at,” he said at the Nov. 21 meeting. “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.”
Merkle said Thoman's ultimate vote was over concern for the monetary aspect of the program. While Merkle has admitted switching to full-day kindergarten is a big cost, she believes it's an investment worth making.
"We do have a plan to fund this," Merkle said. "We have confidence that it's the right place to make our investment."
Board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp, who voted in favor of full-day kindergarten, said she was pleased with the amount of research the administration did. While some might disagree on exactly where the board should invest money, Leopold-Sharp said, she is confident that full-day kindergarten is a good investment.
"We feel this is the best decision we could make for the success of all of our students," she said.
The board ultimately voted on two measures: to approve full-day kindergarten and to have a system in place for parents who might want to keep their kids in a half-day program, which the district currently offers. Merkle and Leopold-Sharp both said details are still being worked out, but Merkle plans to meet with concerned parents one on one and make decisions based on those discussions.
Background: Currently, students in kindergarten attend school for 2½ hours each day. One group of students goes in the morning, and another group attends in the afternoon.
At past meetings, Merkle has explained that teachers in the district feel rushed with the half-day kindergarten program. Even at an early age, students are learning and working on the state's Common Core standards. A full-day program would allow teachers to dive deeply into subjects and ensure students understand fully, Merkle argued.
Some community members and parents have voiced concern over expecting students to sit and pay attention for the entire day, but Merkle and Assistant Superintendent Patricia Maloney have said that, for example, if 40 minutes are devoted to math, students might be counting jumping jacks for one part, playing with blocks for another part and doing a worksheet for another part.
Merkle also has said the district does not plan to add many subjects to the full-day program — the staff doesn't want to overwhelm students. Instead, a greater amount of time will be spent focusing on subjects already taught so students can truly understand a concept before moving on.
Kindergarten registration doesn't open for the district until March 2017, but starting Jan. 3 parents can make appointments with the school to learn more. They can do so by visiting the York Suburban School District website at www.yssd.org.