Classroom space in Districts 15, 25 the main barrier to full-day kindergarten

 
 
Updated 1/27/2016 10:42 AM
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  • Kimball Hill Elementary School on Meadow Drive is one of the District 15 schools that won't be getting all-day kindergarten anytime soon.

      Kimball Hill Elementary School on Meadow Drive is one of the District 15 schools that won't be getting all-day kindergarten anytime soon. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • School District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson

      School District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson DANIEL WHITE | Staff Photographer

More suburban school districts are offering full-day kindergarten, but one of the largest Northwest suburban districts says it simply doesn't have the room.

Educational organizations, including the Illinois Association of School Administrators, say children in full-day kindergarten, especially low-income children, do better in math and reading than children who attend half-day.

Some suburban districts, though, say the lack of classroom space is stymying their ability to make full-day kindergarten an option.

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson said the district has 46 half-day kindergarten classes, and about 1,400 kindergartners.

If District 15 were to offer full-day kindergarten, Thompson estimates it would need dozens more classrooms.

"The district just doesn't have space for that," Thompson said, saying schools have already converted computer labs and parts of learning centers into classrooms.

And those new kindergarten classrooms would not only accommodate the present crop of students, but the likely influx of children whose parents have them enrolled in full-day private kindergartens.

Those children now join District 15 in first grade, he said. But if District 15 offered a free full-day kindergarten, those parents would likely take advantage.

District 15 offers an extended-day kindergarten for about 200 of the most at-risk children. They attend regular kindergarten in the morning, and after lunch receive supplemental literacy help.

Thompson will present a full-day kindergarten feasibility study to the district in March, but believes the space issue will keep the district from changing to it anytime soon.

Jane Westerhold, superintendent of Des Plaines Elementary District 62 and president of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, says studies show full-day kindergarten has rich benefits for children.

"There's pretty solid research that students who attend full-day kindergarten have greater achievements in reading and math, especially students at the low-income level," Westerhold said.

The administrators association is pushing for full-day kindergarten through a larger initiative called Vision 20/20.

Westerhold said a cost benefit to full-day kindergarten has been demonstrated, too.

"With students in full-day kindergarten, fewer end up in special education and fewer are retained," Westerhold said.

Still, Westerhold says, full-day kindergarten isn't just about getting students in the classrooms, but providing proper teacher training, resources and professional development as well.

"The state doesn't mandate it, so they don't fund it," she added. "So if right now everyone had to have it, it's an unfunded mandate. I think philosophically, in a perfect world, if we has unlimited resources, we would have full-day kindergarten."

Meanwhile, other suburban districts also say lack of available space is preventing them from going forward with full-day kindergarten.

"Space is the biggest barrier for us," said Lori Bein, superintendent of Arlington Heights Elementary District 25.

District 25 will shortly begin work on the next strategic plan, and Bein expects full-day kindergarten will be a popular topic among parents.

"If that is the case, we will most likely look at a neutral cost tuition charge," Bein said, meaning parents would pay tuition for the extra half-day of classroom time their children would receive.

Some Northwest suburban school districts have found the room, and offer tuition-free full-day kindergarten.

Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 began offering full-day kindergarten this year. It offers a half-day option as well, but only three students enrolled this year.

In only half a year, students' MAP test scores have risen, said District 54 spokeswoman Terri McHugh. The number of kindergartners meeting proficiency standards for reading and math has increased 9 percent.

"We were hearing anecdotal evidence from teachers that this is better," McHugh said. "They said they were able to cover so much more with full-day (classes)."

McHugh says District 54 had to get "creative" to make room for the additional kindergartners, especially since kindergarten enrollment rose to 1,527 students from last school year's 1,382 students.

Here's what's happening in a few of the other Northwest suburban districts:

• Three schools in Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 offer full-day kindergarten funded by federal Title I money for schools with high numbers of low-income students. The full-day program at Field started this year, and the programs at Whitman and Twain schools began in 2014-2015. District spokeswoman Kara Beach says it has helped more children meet or exceed academic expectations.

• Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 offers full-day kindergarten, but only for students who have been identified as needing the extra help.

• Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 offers both full-day and half-day kindergarten.

• Des Plaines Elementary District 62 offers a tuition-based extended day kindergarten.

• Barrington District 220 offers an optional full-day kindergarten enrichment program, where students have physical education class daily and music and art twice a week. Parents can pay up to $3,500 for the program. District 220 also offers a Spanish dual language and a Chinese immersion program.

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