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Wellesley parents divided over implementing full-day kindergarten

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  October 22, 2013 10:00 AM

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At a school district forum Monday, some Wellesley parents clamored for implementing full-day kindergarten in their public schools, citing education and childcare benefits, while others opposed the potential tax hike necessary to fund it.

School district officials said they plan to ask the town for an override to raise taxes in the next fiscal year to pay for the program. If the override succeeds, full-day kindergarten would be introduced next year, although how is still being decided, said superintendent David Lussier.

Lussier said he will not know how much the program will cost until later this year.

Currently, Wellesley has a hybrid of long days and short days, sending half of each classroom home twice a week and implementing a half-day for everyone on Wednesdays. The schedule transitions to longer days as the school year continues.

At the public meeting Monday, many parents applauded longer days and more class time. Some parents criticized the current model, saying the erratic scheduling proved too tumultuous.

“My sons thrive on schedule and structure, and the hybrid model is so challenging,” said parent Lisa MacArthur to a collection of supportive murmurs. “I am absolutely in favor of a full-day program.”

Many parents supportive of longer days also lamented the cost of afternoon childcare and separate schooling. One father said he appreciated more classroom time to the point of him considering enrolling his children in private schools.

“When I first moved to Wellesley, I was so surprised that there was no full-day kindergarten – we’re letting our kids down by not offering it,” said local parent and MIT professor Martin Bazant. “Why should we have to send our kids to private school [for full days] when we have such an excellent public system?”

Many parents who recently moved to Wellesley said their eldest children attended full-day kindergarten at other schools, and all of them sang the praises of longer days – as did district officials like Sprague Elementary School principal Stephen Goodwin.

“I am a huge believer in more instructional time,” Goodwin said at the meeting. “It gives teachers more time to do their job, and you will see student learning increases in Wellesley.”

However, some parents said that full days of kindergarten were not necessary, worrying that the district would waste taxpayer dollars fixing something that was not broken.

“I haven’t heard any problem clearly diagnosed within the hybrid schedule model,” said parent Lisa Collins. “What if you find our kids need not more time in the classroom, but a shift in the way of doing the curriculum? I don’t want to spend very valuable financial resources on something we haven’t measured.”

Local mom Rachael Arauz said she liked the “stay days” currently scheduled in the hybrid model, where half of the kindergarten classroom has an afternoon with their teacher in a more intimate learning setting.

“I think it’s important to think of quality versus quantity,” Arauz said. “What happens with those stay days is the classroom environment is half as many students, so it’s a quieter, calmer, less hectic environment to be paying attention to the teacher.”

Some local parents said they still were trying to decide which schedule they liked better. One, a Wellesley mom and also a kindergarten teacher in Newton – another hybrid schedule district – said she only supported longer days if it came with teaching assistants for each classroom, which Wellesley officials hope to hire as part of the longer-day model.

“Just think about 5-year-olds -- they really need that small setting,” said Stephanie Juriansz. “You need two competent adults in the classroom to get what you really can out of it.”

In addition to full-day kindergarten, Lussier previously told the Globe that he also hopes to introduce language courses for younger students starting next year.

Currently, the district begins language classes at the middle-school level. But Lussier hopes to begin phasing in the courses to elementary schools, eventually teaching new languages at the kindergarten level.

"It's a no-brainer," he previously said. "It's common in most countries around the world to have kids speak more than one language. We know it creates not just career opportunities, but it also helps students in being open to other cultures and to diversity."

The five-year district plan also envisions a heavier investment in Wellesley educators, funding leadership and professional development plans for teachers and administrators and encouraging them to collaborate on projects together. Officials also hope to instate a mentor program for first-year teachers in the district.

"This is not necessarily new activity, but enhancing things that are already in place," Lussier had said. "We want to build and expand on some of our current work."

As for the override Lussier expects to ask for, the superintendent said he would make sure to bundle all the programs he envisions into one figure.

"We haven't had an override in Wellesley in a number of years," he previously said. "We don’t want to be in a position where we have to keep going back to the town."

For more information on the district's five-year plan, visit Wellesley's public schools' official website.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourwellesley, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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