U-46 considers offering full-day kindergarten across district

 
 
Posted9/14/2015 5:15 AM
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  • Kindergarten teacher Dora Bodinet works with her students at McKinley Elementary School in Elgin. U-46 administrators are proposing offering full-day kindergarten classes districtwide for the 2016-17 school year.

      Kindergarten teacher Dora Bodinet works with her students at McKinley Elementary School in Elgin. U-46 administrators are proposing offering full-day kindergarten classes districtwide for the 2016-17 school year. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Allison Ramirez, 3, of Elgin sorts and organizes toys during "drop and play" classroom at McKinley Elementary School in Elgin.

      Allison Ramirez, 3, of Elgin sorts and organizes toys during "drop and play" classroom at McKinley Elementary School in Elgin. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Elgin Area School District U-46 administrators are proposing offering full-day kindergarten classes districtwide for the 2016-17 school year.

It's a growing national trend among school districts, including neighboring Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, which adopted full-day kindergarten this school year.

"It is the right thing to do for kids," U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said. "The research tells us of the importance for early learning. It will be a game-changer for many of our students as they enter the public education system ready to go. We actually have a lot of demand for this."

Now, the district has about 2,500 students enrolled in half-day kindergarten, offered in morning and afternoon shifts. Tuition-based, full-day kindergarten classes also have been available on a voluntary basis at various sites for three years.

"We have 14 full-day kindergarten classrooms," said Sanders, adding roughly 250 students are receiving full-day kindergarten instruction based on their educational needs.

Illinois Park Center for Early Learning offers some full-day kindergarten classes and also houses the district's early childhood program for at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds -- part of a federal grant to increase access to preschool. Full-day kindergarten classes are offered at a couple of other sites, including Independence Center for Early Learning in Bartlett.

Sanders said the goal is to provide voluntary access to free, full-day kindergarten classes for all U-46 elementary schools.

"This would not be tuition-based. (But) the families would still have the instructional fees that we charge for all students," he said.

Yet most of the district's elementary schools in Elgin and Hanover Park don't have the space to accommodate full-day kindergarten classrooms.

"We want to make it districtwide. If we just have some additions, then it would make things a lot easier," Sanders said. "With the boundary changes, we would need 26 additional classrooms."

U-46 officials discussed the possibility while developing the district's strategic plan and considering potential boundary changes.

The district Enrollment and Facilities Committee's recommendations potentially could affect boundaries for roughly 13 elementary schools, mostly in Elgin, and high school and middle school. The recommendations also could lead to the closing of an underused school or transforming it into a magnet school. Any changes approved would take effect only in the 2016-17 school year, Sanders said.

Administrators propose adding 26 full-day kindergarten classrooms -- 10 at Highland Elementary on Elgin's west side, 10 at Coleman Elementary on Elgin's east side, and six at Laurel Hill Elementary in Hanover Park.

"We would then have the space across the district to offer full-day kindergarten," Sanders said.

Officials also want to keep Illinois Park open as an early learning center. It was closed during previous boundary changes in 2004.

Full-day kindergarten classroom additions could cost the district $14.5 million.

"In this school year, our expense would be around $4.6 million. Next school year it would be around $6.9 million," Sanders said. "We will start to recoup some of those costs due to reduction in transportation. When you reduce that midday run, you are saving fuel and transportation costs. That would save us about $1 million yearly."

Officials also are anticipating additional general state aid revenues in the 2017-18 school year once those kindergartners are counted as full-time students.

"Ideally, we would want to take it out of operating (expenses)," said Sanders, adding the district has enough money in reserves to build the additions.

The district borrowed $40 million in working cash bonds last April, spending some of the money on capital projects during the summer.

"That money was earmarked to go three to four years out," Sanders said.

The district's Enrollment and Facilities Committee's will review the full-day kindergarten proposal Tuesday. Officials will begin gathering feedback from community members at public forums in the coming weeks.

"I've received a lot of positive responses from parents and community members about the proposal so I'm hopeful that we'll have full-day kindergarten starting next year," Sanders said.

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