Palo Alto school board postpones full-day kindergarten decision

Board members ask for more time to discuss proposal

The Palo Alto school board decided Tuesday night to put off voting on a proposal to move the majority of the district's kindergarteners to a longer school day until its next meeting.

After several months of discussion with the elementary school communities about moving to a full-day kindergarten model, Superintendent Max McGee recommended this week that kindergartners at eight sites stay slightly longer hours two days a week, starting this fall, while the other four schools would run a full-day model. The primary driver for the longer day is to help support struggling students and reduce Palo Alto's achievement gap, but proponents argue that a full-day model benefits all students.

Under McGee's recommendation, kindergartners at Addison, Duveneck, Escondido, Hoover, Juana Briones, Ohlone, Nixon and Walter Hays would stay in school twice a week until the same time that the entire school gets out on Wednesdays. (Wednesday is an early dismissal day at all elementary schools, though the exact dismissal time varies from site to site.) Half the class would stay for the longer day two days a week, and the other half for another two days.

This is very similar to the current "extended-day" model in place at 10 elementary schools, but with students staying slightly longer. (At Addison, for example, kindergartners stay two days a week until noon; under McGee's recommendation, they would stay until 1:15 p.m. instead.)

McGee is recommending that Fairmeadow and El Carmelo, however, adopt the model currently in place at Palo Verde Elementary School, where all kindergartners stay until 2 p.m. four days a week. He said that the principal and teachers at Fairmeadow and El Carmelo see Palo Verde's model as successful and asked to shift to it.

Barron Park Elementary School would remain the only school in the district where students stay for a true full-day, until 2:25 p.m., every day except Wednesday. Nixon is considering this model, however, McGee said.

McGee proposed that all schools keep their new model for four or five years to give the district time to study the effect of the different schedules on students. This model would cost an estimated $338,000 to pay for additional instructional aides and music and physical-education teachers, according to the district.

Only one board member, Camille Townsend, said she was ready to support McGee's recommendation as is. Board President Heidi Emberling and Trustee Ken Dauber said they would rather put a full-day model in place at all of the district's elementary schools. Vice President Terry Godfrey said while "I feel like some investment in it is right, I don't feel at the moment qualified to say if the model is the right one or not."

Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell expressed concern about the variation McGee's proposal creates among the 12 elementary schools.

"I've had some parents come up to me who feel like they're in the losing school group," she said, "and it reminds me of the conversation we've had in the past where (parents say), 'If I don't get to choose what school I go to, then why are the schools so different?'

"These are really big differences," she said.

Dauber added that he was "prepared to support a proposal for full-day kindergarten across the district because it reflects a coherent philosophy in addressing the achievement gap."

The current proposal, he said, "doesn't reflect a coherent philosophy."

"I think until it's clear why we would have this variation and that it has some principled basis, this is not a proposal that I think makes sense," Dauber said.

Emberling referred to full-day kindergarten as a "golden opportunity for the district" and urged staff to pursue a full-day model that starts at the beginning of the school year at all elementary schools. She asked staff to consider what other budget items could be reduced in order to fund a true full-day model at all schools.

One kindergarten teacher and several parents spoke out against the proposal at Tuesday's meeting. Duveneck Elementary School kindergarten teacher Barbara Suzco, a member of a kindergarten "think tank" that McGee convened to research the topic, said his recommendation did not honor the group's majority opinion. At the same meeting teachers and administrators were presented with his recommendation and two other alternatives, they were asked to say which model they preferred for their school, she said.

Parents who spoke said they were worried that a longer day will inevitably mean more academics rather than free or play time, regardless of the district's stated commitment to balancing both. One mother said her first-grader comes home "exhausted" after school and another whose kindergartner "dreads" going to school every day and needs an hour to unwind after he gets home.

"I'm concerned that what sounds great in a presentation plays out very differently in real-life application," said Julie Tomasz, the mother of two students at Duveneck. Last month, Tomasz started an online petition opposing full-day kindergarten that has gathered 107 signatures.

Fifteen families at Nixon, however, have signed a letter in support of moving to the full-day model, parent Josh Knowles told the board.

The district also received letters of support from parents who could not attend the meeting; at least 13 were included in the board packet.

"Thank you for understanding that a longer day does not mean additional/more academic work as well as considering the benefits for self-regulation, connectedness, choice, agency, empathy, free play, self-exploration, etc.," wrote Peggy Yao, the parent of an incoming kindergartner.

"Without full day kindergarten, first grade is a time of (sic) rapid and stressful 'catch up' where significant parent involvement and a great deal of investment by first grade teachers has to be devoted to learning what could/should have been learned during kindergarten," wrote Nixon parent Diana Farid. "It is a shame that such a well resourced district has deprived these learners of time to more fully develop capacity for future learning."

The school board decided to pull full-day kindergarten from a series of budget requests it was set to vote on Tuesday night and reconsider it at its next meeting on May 24.

The board also postponed action to its next meeting on the following budget requests: $164,000 over two years for two high school "wellness outreach workers;" $100,000 for breakfast for low-income elementary school students; $300,000 to provide a full-time reading specialist at every elementary school; $111,059 in additional staffing at the district office; and $100,000 for high school athletic programs.

The board pulled out and unanimously approved three budget requests that staff said were more time sensitive: $150,000 to provide more math intervention specialists at the high schools; $1,075,000 to hire six teachers over two years at the high schools and $750,000 to hire six teachers over two years at the middle schools.


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19 people like this
Posted by Joan Mather
a resident of Los Altos
on May 11, 2016 at 11:12 am

Though not a resident of Palo Alto I have followed with interest and compassion the recent concerns and studies of student stresses, some leading to suicide - of your high schools. Palo Alto parents are known far and wide for their academic aspirations for their kids with the resultant pressures and expectations leading to the current situation.

Why then would a blanket change to All Day Kindergaten - the "K" of your "K through 12" school district - make sense?
Would starting the pressure at 5 years, not lead to more expectations moving through to 17 years? The teachers have supported the extended day for those able to adjust to it. Please do listen to those who have studied child development and actually worked with the age group.
Thank you for letting me express my opinion. I care about children, and especailly the most vulnerable young ones no matter where they live.

26 people like this
Posted by recent teacher
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 11, 2016 at 1:37 pm

"Kindergarten teacher Barbara Suzco, a member of a kindergarten 'think tank' that McGee convened to research the topic, said his recommendation did not honor the group's majority opinion." And this is what I've heard from the K teachers I know. How can Supt. McGee say it's supported if it is contrary to his own select committee's recommendation? Also, the principal at Fairmeadow is not in favor of this change, nor are the teachers. Another "misstatement" by McGee. What other "misstatements" are being promulgated?

One of the parents quoted in your article refers to kindergarten being used for learning what is appropriate to kindergarten, so that it doesn't eat into first grade time. Kindergarten is already not being used for this in Palo Alto; it is an early first grade, where children are expected to behave in older ways, and learn developmentally-inappropriate skills, so that in first grade they can be pushed again. That is why so much material has to be gone over again, when the students are developmentally ready for it. And there is no way this time will not quickly become academic seat time. The district will not employ adequate staff to do this properly. We teachers keep telling you people this, but no one will listen...

9 people like this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Good move.

Think twice before expanding this to full day.


16 people like this
Posted by akimbo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2016 at 7:23 pm

"Without full day kindergarten, first grade is a time of (sic) rapid and stressful 'catch up' where significant parent involvement and a great deal of investment by first grade teachers has to be devoted to learning what could/should have been learned during kindergarten," wrote Nixon parent Diana Farid. "It is a shame that such a well resourced district has deprived these learners of time to more fully develop capacity for future learning."

I was so very unhappy reading this. I invite all to deconstruct this one paragraph as an example of what is going wrong in our community. I am not saying this parent isn't entitled to her opinion, and am not commenting on her as a person. I am saying that the mentality that has unhealthy expectations of child development, and pushes children too much and too quickly is right here, for all to see, in her words and warnings of potential kinder and first grader deprivation.

15 people like this
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on May 11, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Alice Smith is a registered user.

When I went to elementary school, albeit 72 years ago, we went to school from 9 to 3 as kindergarteners. We had a mandatory 1 hour nap on our bathmats (blankets) with lunch in the cafeteria (I recall this well, because they had liverwurst which I still don't eat) but normally had a hot lunch with free milk. Sedgwick Elementary School in West Hartford had a large room with individual cubbyholes for you to store your sleep mat and any favorite toy you wanted. Everyone had to lie down and sleep and we did.

The nap was essential. We also had a lot of play outside, singing and mostly books read to us and fun. I have no recollection of when I learned to read or write...

16 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Staff
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2016 at 1:45 am

Many parents in favor of FDK assume the added hours will be spent in play, free choice or self-directed exploration and not more academics. The reality is it depends a lot on the teacher and the class make-up.

Please take a look at the FDK schedules at Barron Park and Palo Verde below. BP's schedule shows kinders starting at 8:15 and going till 2pm and then finally, at the end of the day, they get 30 min of free choice. Palo Verde's schedule doesn't list free choice. Hopefully, they do have some!

Bottom line, there's no guarantee that Kinder classes will have more play and free choice after going to FDK.

As Deborah Stipek, dean of Stanford Grad School of Education said: "What matters most in any kindergarten classroom, regardless of its length, is the teacher's ability to manage the class time. There are full-day kindergarten teachers who really fritter away the potential benefits of the additional time......If you care about your kids' experience, then you need to care about the training and support that teachers receive because that's going to matter more than anything else."

Barron Park:
8:15-8:30 Morning Meeting
8:30-9:45 Math Lesson and Stations
9:45-10 Shared/Interactive Writing
10-10:30 Snack, Recess
10:30-10:45 Read Aloud (1 day/wk Library till 11am)
10:45-11:15 Reader's Workshop
11:15-12:25 Writer's Workshop (1 day/wk Music 30min)
12:25-1:15 Lunch
1:15-1:25 Read Aloud, Shared/Interactive Reading (1 day/wk PE 30min)
1:25-2:30 Literacy Stations, Choice Time

Palo Verde Schedule
8:15-9:45: *Opening routines, incl Math & Literacy activities & lessons, *Writing Workshop, *Interactive writing
9:45-10:15: Snack & Recess
10:15-11:15:Â *Reading Workshop, *Word work, Shared & Interactive reading
11:15-12:00: *Math (EDM), *Science
12:00 - 12:45: Lunch
12:45 - 2:00: Centers - *Rotating work stations featuring math & science investigations, largely from the K Foss Science, and Everyday Math programs, as well as literacy centers, such as word sorting.

14 people like this
Posted by Woops
a resident of College Terrace
on May 12, 2016 at 9:35 am

Good luck competing with the private schools!

6 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 12, 2016 at 9:54 am

Wow is a registered user.

I'm always confused when people talk about PAUSD "competing" with private schools, or when parents archly announce (as one did at a recent board meeting) that they are seriously considering private school alternatives if such and such doesn't change.

If you want to go to private school, then go! Many have gone before, and it may be the best choice for your family. PAUSD is the public system, and the public system is never going to be the best one for everyone. Heck, many of the school board members either had or have students at private schools.

PAUSD does what's best for them and their students. For parents who want something else, private school is a fine alternative. Historically, that's been about 10% of the Palo Alto school population.

13 people like this
Posted by Kinders need play time!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2016 at 9:59 am

@PAUSD staff, thank you for posting the kinder schedules for Barron park and Palo Verde! That is a tiring schedule for a 5 year old! I was expecting a lot more free time for the students after lunch allowing the teacher one on one time with the students. When my kids were kinders at Duveneck, the half of the class that stayed later had exactly that - free play time playing store, blocks, art, puppets, etc. while the teacher spent time with each student. Parent volunteers helped with the free play, freeing up the teacher. It was great for the students who loved getting 100% of the teacher's attention and they had fun too.

12 people like this
Posted by Nixon mom
a resident of Stanford
on May 12, 2016 at 10:01 am

I would be very interested to hear if the Palo Verde and Barron Park teachers and principals dislike full day kindergarten at their schools. My understanding is that it's well liked and received. I've certainly not heard anything against it from those schools. In fact, most of the loudest resistance seems to be coming from Duveneck. I appreciated hearing the anecdotes from parents at the meeting, but they are just anecdotes. The research appears pretty clear that FDK reduces achievement gaps and doesn't have any long term stress effects. And if parents really feel so strongly against FDK, there is no law saying they have to go to kindergarten or even stay the whole day.

FDK is not at all a radical idea and in fact, PAUSD is an outlier compared to the rest of the country and state.

Consider the local districts that have FDK. Why is PAUSD not in step with other districts?

Woodside Elementary District
Menlo Park City School District
Portola Valley School District
Santa Clara Unified School District
Los Altos School District
Mountain View Whisman
Cupertino Union School District
Sunnyvale School District

Change is hard. But accommodations could be made for parents who want to opt-out.

10 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 12, 2016 at 10:38 am

Wow is a registered user.

@Nixon Mom - If you are aware of any research that compares FDK to the Palo Alto extended day program, that would be great to see. I'm not aware of any. Comparing FDK to half-day Kinder is not really a relevant comparison for this decision.

The MATD Task Force did NOT recommend FDK for all kids - only for HUR minorities who showed a need. Nor in fact did they look at much FDK research - the only item listed in their bibliography or quoted in their report is the NEA (union) FDK advocacy pamphlet. See for yourself: Web Link

I don't know what the right answer is here, but two of the main arguments given by supporters - the research "proves" it, and the MATD recommended it - are simply incorrect. We should all stop saying that.

It seems likely, as some have said, that instructional practices and use of time are more important than number of Kindergarten instructional minutes. Quality, not quantity - esp for 5 and 6 year olds. It would be useful to have that discussion.

10 people like this
Posted by Nixon mom
a resident of Stanford
on May 12, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Thanks for the links. I looked at the MATD report this section spoke to me.

1. Early education rose as a theme throughout the MATD process. Currently PAUSD does not offer full day kindergarten, but does have extended day for all students two days a week. To be able to strengthen skills and learning opportunities for underrepresented students, full day or extended day kindergarten is strongly recommended for students who are socially and emotionally ready to learn but do not have the foundational skills and/or vocabulary or language development.

I interpret the above to mean that the recommendation is for any child (regardless of HUR) to have full or extended day kindergarten if they're developmentally ready.

Then the NEA 2006 report has a nice summary of the research for full day kindergarten. Web Link
"The report says there are long-term educational gains, especially for low income and minority students." It doesn't say the gains are only for low income and minority students.

So right now there is extended day kindergarten at most schools. If that's how it stays, that's how it stays. But I haven't been convinced of the idea that full day kindergarten is harmful (which was the underlying argument of those who spoke at the PAUSD meeting). Anecdotes aren't evidence. I sincerely appreciate the concern and I have no interest on adding any pressure to my 5-yr old in an already super competitive and stressful, high achieving district. I just don't happen to believe that full day kindergarten will be a significant factor in making that worse. A lot a lot of kids are already in full-time day care. They're already used to being active and learning together for 8+ hours a day. While it is play-based, there's some structure and curriculum. It's not free choice all day. Either model - extended day or full day - will still be less than they're currently getting.

What I want most though, is for a decision to be made so we can finish our summer and fall planning.

3 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 12, 2016 at 1:10 pm

@Nixon Mom - from the report (p 18 of the PDF):

Given the benefits that full­-day kinder could have for HUR students, MATD
recommends a full­-day kinder for HUR students – and others which diagnostic
observations and assessments reveal need additional supports -­­ with an emphasis on
academic enrichment activities and curriculum during the extended time.

Seems pretty clear, do you agree? FDK for some, not for all.

On the research, I don't think any of us would expect to find objective, unbiased research summaries in advocacy guides published by labor organizations. That's not a dig at the union; if the guide were published by a business association, I'd feel the same way. I would expect the basis for PAUSD's decision would draw on more objective sources.

I do agree that neither you nor I, nor it seems the MATD, has a well-informed answer here. And that the proposal being made doesn't reflect appropriate research or the MATD report. That does not seem like a good foundation for changing the practice we have in place.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Full day kindergarten smacks of free daycare or free afterschool care and institutionalization. It speaks of nothing that gives 5 year olds more time to be a kid. Yes they do need to learn that there are times in the day when they have to be structured and follow a schedule, but they also need unstructured time to follow their hearts desire and not be ruled by the clock. If a child doesn't have time to spend on their own timetable, time to dream, time to come back to something they left a while ago, then they are being institutionalized much too early.

17 people like this
Posted by Irony
a resident of Nixon School
on May 12, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Isn't it ironic that private schools have less pressure than PAUSD, and yet have had full day kindergarten for at least a decade?

Isn't it strange that full day kindergarteners in private schools get a one hour nap every day, but public schools with full day kindergarten DO NOT?

Isn't it weird that kindergarteners are reading, doing addition and subtraction, even in low income public districts? Even though pediatric ophthalmologists all agree that a child"s eyesight is not developed enough to be reading before age 6, or even 7???

What about the fact that nearly every country in the world has a longer school day, albeit with more recesses than the US? That every country other than the US has a longer school year, with only one month for summer break? That those countries score far higher in every category than the US--even though their kindergartens are like our preschools, and just for building social skills, even though their schools postpone reading until age 7, in most cases?

Obviously the US system, based on the Prussian system (long ago debunked in Europe), which was based on the ancient (rather cruel) Spartan system, is a failure.

7 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park neighbor
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Has the PAUSD ever considered offering both full day and half day programs depending on parent's desire?
I know that although Menlo Park has completely changed over to a full day kinder, initially they had both full day and half day options available. Supposedly, those who had a FDK didn't cover more material, but had more time for play and a more leisurely learning pace.

6 people like this
Posted by Old But Wise
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 14, 2016 at 2:13 pm

I have worked with pre-schoolers for 40 years in this area. There was a time when Kindergarden teachers aligned their practices more with us than the upper grades. Going to all day Kindergarden will not only put more pressure on these young children but also impact Nursery School practices. Parents can be very uneducated as far as what is appropriate for the under 5's. Let these children enjoy exploring, making friends, learning to get along with others, using their imaginations freely, with no pressure of reaching goals or competing. The children of the 60's and 70's parents are the ones who's imaginations soared to encompass the digital age...the children of today may not have the "open road" to be so imaginative.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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