All-day kindergarten a go in Naperville Dist. 203

Updated 1/8/2013 5:38 AM

Half of Naperville Unit District 203's 14 elementary schools will offer all-day kindergarten beginning next school year.

Board members voted 6-1 Monday to approve the program at its seven Title 1 schools beginning in August.

Superintendent Dan Bridges last month unveiled the plan, which aims to offer the full-day kindergarten in all elementary schools as early as 2014.

Administrators said the plan is designed to help jump-start schools with higher at-risk populations while continuing to study the costs and logistics of implementing it districtwide.

The Title 1 schools, which get money from the federal government to help students who are behind academically or at risk of falling behind, are Beebe, Ellsworth, Elmwood, Mill, Naper, River Woods and Scott.

Administrators think the program will give kindergarten students more time to interact with peers and a better educational foundation.

Kristin Fitzgerald, a mother of three students at Mill Street School, praised the plan.

"Research clearly supports the benefits of all-day kindergarten for at-risk learners. At-risk learners who start the year with an academic disadvantage are able to make huge gains, in many cases catching up to their peers, due to the increased time spent learning in all-day kindergarten," Fitzgerald said. "The administration has made clear this is a phased proposal, which allows for continued evaluation of the program moving forward. I think this is also the right choice for District 203."

Several board members, including Jackie Romberg and Suzyn Price, also praised the program. Price let out a slight cheer when the vote was official.

Not everyone shared in the celebration, however, as opponents fear the phased-in attempt leaves too many "what-ifs" down the road and doesn't guarantee the program will be expanded, despite Bridge's certainty. The construction costs and operating costs also cause concern.

Across the district, 80 students are enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs, including a dual-language program for Spanish-speaking students with limited English proficiency, intervention and social skills programs for students with individualized education programs, and an extended-day Title 1 program for low-performing students.

The district's half-day kindergarten program has 796 at 14 elementary schools.

Startup costs for the program this year are projected to be about $380,000 while total costs in 2013-14 would be about $928,000. To implement the program in all schools would cost the district about $1.3 million after about $820,000 in payouts from the state.

A majority of the costs are linked to the necessary $300,000 renovation to Ellsworth this summer and a $1 million addition needed at Naper in the summer of 2014.

Monica Lucibello, a mother of two Ellsworth students and president of the Home and School program, said the Ellsworth community supports all-day kindergarten, but not the way this plan was rolled out.

"Every student in 203 deserves to share in the promise of all-day kindergarten, and they deserve to share in it equally," she said. "And the proposed $300,000 renovation to Ellsworth is a half-measure which pretends to prepare the facility for all-day kindergarten while really asking teachers and students to compromise their educational experience."

Board member Dave Weeks, who is not seeking re-election in April, voted against the plan for the same reasons.

"I still think that we're trying to take a focused problem with at-risk children and coming up with a solution that is just doing it for everybody," Weeks said. "I don't see how we can make this commitment when we're not sure how we're going to do the second year. There is no way that this community will stand for half of our schools having all-day kindergarten and half of them not."

Bridges on Monday restated his hope to offer all-day kindergarten at the remaining seven elementary schools as early as the 2014-15 school year. Any necessary boundary changes or renovations necessary to make that happen will be presented at that time.

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