Full-day kindergarten could be on horizon for Northern York

Dillsburg Elementary School has a new kindergarten playground thanks to the Dillsburg Kiwanis Club, the PTO and the Northern York County School District. Pictured are kindergartners during a play date on Aug 27, 2016.

Northern York County School District is considering a switch from half-day to full-day kindergarten — a schedule already offered by most other county districts.

In fact, it's one of only three districts that hasn't moved completely to full-day.

Only Red Lion Area and West Shore school districts maintain half-day programs with an option for students to attend full-day, if selected based on need.

Northern Superintendent Eric Eshbach said last month the district was researching  full-day kindergarten. The study includes site visits to neighboring districts with full-day programs, a survey of K-3 families and a feasibility study with results potentially available this month.

"This is definitely a priority within the district," said board President Ken Sechrist.

As of Thursday, the district's analysis of neighboring districts continued, Sechrist said. 

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But whether the board decides to do this next year or hold off could depend on factors such as room in facilities for extra personnel. Cost, such as pensions, special education and technology, also is  a big consideration. 

Eshbach said he didn't have any cost estimates for switching to a full-day program yet  but will be looking at curricular, personnel and transportation costs. 

Officials for West York Area School District, now in its second year of full-day kindergarten, said its implementation  cost per classroom was about $25,000 for furniture and supplies, $1,200 for "decorating" and  $100,000 per teacher for salary and benefits.

That district's superintendent, Todd Davies, said four teachers were hired for full-day but some transferred from other positions in the district, so salaries might have varied based on experience level.

It's too soon to tell if Northern's move would warrant a tax raise, Sechrist said.

Northern has consistently raised taxes in recent years based on factors such as a lack of businesses in the area to boost tax revenue, but Sechrist does not anticipate anything above the norm.

Research shows long-term academic benefits for full-day kindergarten and also suggests that less time in school at an early age could set children back permanently.

"We know 50% of students that come to us weren’t in preschool, and some who went through first (grade) didn’t go into kindergarten," said Lynn Kohler, a West York board member.

More:West York board approves full-day kindergarten, SROs as part of 3-year agenda

He said according to research, children who read by third grade will see success.

A 2010 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation — which advocates for disadvantaged children — confirms this.

"Up until the end of third grade, most children are learning to read. Beginning in fourth grade, however, they are reading to learn," according to the report.

If children cannot read by the end of third grade, they are likely to remain poor readers in high school, the report states, citing Yale University research.

Spring Grove Area School District, also in its second year of full-day kindergarten, is seeing improvement in student growth and development. York Suburban, in its third year, has more time allotted for arts and social emotional learning.

More:Spring Grove schools approve full-day kindergarten

More:York Suburban approves full-day kindergarten

It also helps that teachers are not stretched too thin with two classes each day and only two and a half hours per class, said Tawn Ketterman, director of elementary education at York Suburban.

"They were on a tight schedule," Ketterman said, noting heightened stress in teachers was spilling over to students. "It was really hard to not expose that."

Preliminary feedback from Northern had been largely positive as of November.

Of the 250 surveys about a switch to full-day kindergarten returned out of 980 sent out to families of students in grades K-3, some 74% of respondents indicated that they would have taken advantage of a full-day option had it been available. 

Though there are those who are partial to a half-day program, Eshbach said, one solution could be offering that as an option — as Spring Grove and York Suburban did for a year before phasing it out.

Eshbach said the administration plans to have a proposal for the board by Feb. 18.