In an effort to help students start with a competitive edge, Addison Elementary District 4 will test a full-day kindergarten program next fall.
The program will be at Army Trail School and will include one English-speaking class and one bilingual class, where instruction is given in Spanish. Administrators are still determining how many students will be accepted into each class.
Assistant Superintendent Charles Wartman said this could be an important tool to ensure students start on the path toward meeting state standards.
"The stakes are so high," Wartman said. "Kindergarten is far different from what it was when we went to school. There is more of an academic focus. And this is a good way to address the students who are progressing at a good rate, but also to beef up the skills of those at risk."
He added that many surrounding districts already have full-day kindergarten and a task force has observed those programs to gather information on what District 4's kindergarten should include.
The program is estimated to cost $50,000 to $70,000 next year, but Wartman said it's too soon to say if all-day kindergarten will become permanent.
"It depends on effectiveness and funding," Wartman said. "It would be crazy to say this is what we are doing for sure. Yes, it's our long-term goal, but we have to safeguard the financial liability of the district."
District 4 currently is owed roughly $2 million in back payments from the state. The district was approved for the funding, but the state budget crisis means the district is unsure when that money will actually arrive.
Regardless, the district also is pushing other early-learning initiatives. Last school year, the lack of state funding forced administrators to cancel its preschool program, which formerly served 200 children in five classes that were a mix of general and bilingual education.
When funds were re-approved, the district reinstated the program this school year, but on a smaller scale. Now, 120 children are served by three classes at various schools, and many students are on a waiting list. The preschool will cost the district about $172,000 this year.
Wartman said the preschool is targeted for at-risk children, so participants are screened.
"The point is to bring all of our students to the same starting point, so they are more successful in kindergarten."
With hope for the future of at least the preschool, District 4 administrators applied for an Early Childhood Construction Grant. If approved, the district would received about $5 million from a pool of $45 million available to districts around the state. The money would be used to construct a new building for early learning programs.
"This would help with increasing programs but also centralizing early childhood special education with preschool," Wartman said.