District 21 bringing full-day kindergarten to all its schools
Students can attend full-day kindergarten next year in all nine Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 schools, after the board on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution to adopt districtwide full-day kindergarten for the 2020-21 school year.
Three of the district's elementary schools currently offer full-day kindergarten -- Field, Twain and Whitman. The rest offer half-day programs. A half-day option will continue to be available to parents who want it, but the full-day option will now be the districtwide default.
The move requires administrators to add 15 licensed teaching positions and two teacher's assistant positions. The district also will need to renovate 29 classrooms to accommodate the full-day plan.
Administrators estimate the cost for the first year of the program at $5.3 million. The program is expected to cost just under $1 million annually after that.
A $69 million bond issue voters approved last November will fund building upgrades. The cost of the additional teachers will be part of the regular budget.
"I'm very, very pleased to be able to make this recommendation," Superintendent Michael Connolly said. "We are very comfortable with recommending that the board move forward with this."
A survey conducted by the district in 2017-18 found that parents put a high priority on full-day kindergarten. The resolution noted that and cited Economic Policy Institute research, which found that investments in early childhood programs generate a return of $3 saved for every $1 invested.
"I think there's a recognition that the skills that kids need to have mastered to be successful in first grade can't be done in 2½ hours," Connolly said. "It's just too much to try to get into in a 2½-hour program."
The board was united in its support for the resolution.
"I'm thrilled," said board member Arlen Gould. "It will be great for our parents and our children."
Research has shown that students who attend full-day kindergarten have better academic outcomes, officials said. Full-day kindergarten also has been shown to lead to greater self-confidence and more positive engagement with peers.
"We see that there are fewer students who will experience learning problems if they have a better foundation coming out of kindergarten," Connolly said. "This is a really huge step forward for our community and our school district."