All incoming Palo Alto school district kindergartners could attend school for a full day starting this fall under a new, evolved recommendation from Superintendent Max McGee.
The school board will vote on the new recommendation Tuesday night. McGee shifted his proposal after the board postponed a vote at its meeting two weeks ago, unsure that what he was suggesting at that time was the best path forward for the district.
McGee had originally proposed that kindergartners at eight elementary schools stay slightly longer hours two days a week, while the other four schools would run a full-day model. Several board members asked for more consistency across the district and at least two President Heidi Emberling and Trustee Ken Dauber said they would support full-day kindergarten.
Under McGee's new recommendation, all kindergartners would attend school for the full primary day, starting in mid-October.
The maximum number of weekly instructional minutes would be capped at 1,550, which is the current number at Barron Park Elementary School, the only school in the district to offer a true full-day model. Barron Park kindergartners stay in school until 2:25 p.m. every day except Wednesday, an early dismissal day at all elementary schools.
Since daily schedules vary slightly from campus to campus, schools that already have a longer primary day such as Escondido, Duveneck and Fairmeadow elementary schools would dismiss kindergartners before the end of the primary day to stay within this minutes cap, McGee wrote in a staff report for Tuesday's board meeting. The kindergarten school year would begin with a shorter day (ending just before lunchtime) and extend to the full day in October, as is current practice at the elementary schools that offer an extended or full-day model.
"The intent of the change to a longer day for kindergarten students," McGee wrote, "is to provide each student with additional time to balance social and emotional learning, language development, and academic learning.
"We are not increasing the academic workload; rather, we are providing more time for all students to succeed in addition to having more time for choosing from available activities, play, and language development through large and small group interactions."
The new model would also build in 30 minutes for music and 30 minutes for physical education in addition to 30 minutes of library time.
Full-day kindergarten was first proposed as a means to help the school district close its achievement gap, but has evolved into a broader conversation about academics, instructional approaches, social-emotional development and other needs for Palo Alto's youngest students.
Proponents argue that full day benefits all students, provides teachers much-needed flexibility to balance both academics and play and still allows for the small-group instruction time that many teachers have referred to as the "gold standard" of Palo Alto Unified's early-education program.
Critics, however, worry that more time in school will inevitably mean more ratcheting up of academics at an age when children need ample play and downtime. Some teachers have voiced concern that having more students for more hours will also hinder their ability to work in small groups or one-on-one with students. Some parents and teachers argue that funds would be better spent on targeted support for the students who need it.
McGee notes in his updated recommendation that parents can choose to opt out of the full day and pick their child up before lunch each day.
McGee is also recommending that all kindergarten classrooms be guaranteed 10 hours each week of instructional aide time. In addition, classrooms with more than 20 students enrolled for the full day will receive remediation funds for each student over 20, McGee wrote in the staff report. Those dollars could then be applied toward additional classroom aide support beyond 10 hours per week or other purposes, like equipment or materials, as defined in the school district's agreement with its teachers union.
The district estimates that the additional remediation could cost up to approximately $90,000, bringing the total cost of the changes to $428,000.
The board will be weighing the increased cost of full-day kindergarten against six other budget proposals up for action Tuesday night.
Currently, most Palo Alto elementary schools all except Barron Park and Palo Verde offer some version of an extended half-day model, where one half of the class leaves around noon while the other half stays for about two hours twice a week. At Escondido, El Carmelo, Juana Briones, Duveneck and Walter Hays elementary schools, students who need extra support are also tutored by an instructional aide two days a week.
Several potential new models have been floated this spring by McGee as he worked with a kindergarten "think tank" group made up of 13 kindergarten teachers and administrators, but the new recommendation is his and does not have the backing of the entire group, teachers have said at board meetings.
In other business Tuesday, the school board will take action on proposed agreements with the teachers and classified employees union; vote on $1.2 million in additional budget requests for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years; discuss its contracts for legal services for the 2016-17 year; and consider a new state bill that requires all California school districts to develop an objective and transparent mathematics placement policy for incoming high school freshmen, among other items.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.