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Variety Of Kindergarten Issues Discussed

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The following is a portion of the March 9, 2015 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.

8:53 p.m. – A round of applause was offered to the Full-Day Kindergarten Citizens Advisory Committee.

School Committee Member Margaret Murray said it was phenomenal and asked how many people in the audience read the report.  No one raised their hands.

There were no other comments from the School Committee.

Clay said that the School Committee would look at what would provide the best possible student success in Westford and then it would look at how full-day kindergarten fits compared to other items relating to that success.

He also said that the School Committee would strongly base its decisions on public feedback.

8:57 – Emily Blumburg noted that there might be the possibility to remove pre-first grade if full-day kindergarten was added.

This was not considered as it was thought of as a separate determination by the School Committee.

Superintendent Bill Olsen said he had received several e-mails on this matter and the School Department would take a look at developmental skills given by kindergarten and how it would impact pre-first.

Currently, there are no plans to eliminate pre-first.

School Committee Member Erika Kohl was concerned as pre-first kids are a different set of kids than kindergarten kids.

She said the pre-first kids are not developmentally ready, but are academically ready.

Clay clarified that there is no plan to tie them together.

David Keele on March 9, 2015
David Keele on March 9, 2015

School Committee Member David Keele said that this was the most detailed and simple-to-understand report he has ever seen during his time on the School Committee.

Keele asked why only parents with students in kindergarten or had children age six or younger were in the survey.

The Advisory Committee said they were trying to look at who had a vested interested in it right now and that it would be a time constraint, although a broader survey would be useful in the future.

Olsen wondered if there would be a “we turned out okay” syndrome with parents of good students.

School Committee Member Arthur Benoit then noted that the School Committee had requested a more focused survey.

Keele said he had no problem due to the time constraints.

9:06 p.m. – Tatiana Potter of Acton Road noted there was a lot viewed in terms of academic achievement and behavior. Her concern was there were social, emotional and physical effects based on kids sitting in a classroom for a long time and wondered if there were any disadvantages.

It was reiterated that there was not a lot of information regarding behavior. It was also noted that the data was retrospective.

Potter reiterated her comments, saying her daughter in third grade has a lot of anxiety as well as “other effects” on kids.

Kohl made a list of pros and cons. Pros included including music and art, reinforcement of concepts, going into more depth while going at the same pace.

Cons included one study noting that full-day kids had poorer dispositions on learning, the gains are not sustained, students have five extra months of school in terms of time but only get 1.7 or 1.3 extra months of learning. There was also the matter of equitable pay for teachers and big ticket items that could limit the ability of doing that.

She was also concerned about later losing pre-first grade programs and other items.

Potter said the curriculum is too fast to fit into a half-day. However, it would be better to pare down the curriculum rather than extend the day.

Benoit noted an annual survey regarding the current full-day kindergarten, which is only for special needs students. Olsen said it would be difficult to use this survey in a broader sense.

9:17 p.m. – School Committee member Angela Harkness asked how curriculums were made.

Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery said coordinators work with teachers once curriculums are purchased, focusing on goals and meeting standards.

Regarding the Common Core standards, it’s focused on skills that colleges and careers need and then scaled back all the way down to Pre-K.

In terms of scaling back, it would do a disservice to earlier students. Localities can make their own curricula.

Kohl noted earlier discussions on Common Core standards and discussions with teachers on Common Core. They said Common Core did not impact their work.

Rick Arena of Long Road then came to the microphone.

Arena wanted to echo the quality of the work done on this report due to its high standards.

He also noted it would be good to interview parents who have had students in full-day and half-day kindergarten and wondered if the curriculum played a role in teachers wanting full-day.

Then he noted it’s important to make sure there aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions regarding developmental appropriateness and noted that Finland doesn’t start its children in school until seven.

Arena then wondered if expanded extended-day was offered how that would impact the survey.

It was then noted that half-day would be offered in all the models except the model where fees for full-day would only be levied in the first year.

9:25 p.m. – Jenn Smagula of Buckboard Drive asked if the research looked at had more full-day students from poorer families.

This was confirmed. She then asked if this skewed results.

It was noted that this was a valid concern. However, the pattern was similar in the study on the town with similar demographics to Westford.

There was also discussion on national studies versus localized studies. And that caution should be used in interpretations of the effects from the data.

Murray asked if different weights were used on different studies. This was confirmed.

Kohl then noted that the conditions didn’t change for the students later on in their lives. However, it was noted that students were subjected to different conditions in different studies.

She then asked about the study in the town similar to Westford. It was noted that there was some “natural catch up.” However, it was hard to tell where the full-day kids started.

Kohl then noted in the “Eccles-K” studies, half-day and full-day students end up in the same place. It was noted that the full-day children in the studies may have started at a lower level.

Clay noted that while the hypothesis coming in was that there would be a significant difference, that didn’t turn out.

The Advisory Committee said the best way to figure it out would be to test it out, but Keele said that luxury was not in place.

It was noted there is a full-day program already in place, but it uses a different curriculum than the half-day kindergarten.

Harkness noted that comparative programs had been done in other areas in Westford’s schools. And while it would be difficult, it would be helpful to do a temporary pilot program for the sake of comparison.

 

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