Palo Alto school board approves full-day kindergarten for all

Some parents, teachers still voice concern and opposition

All kindergartners entering the Palo Alto Unified School District this fall and in future years will attend school for a full day under a proposal the school board approved Tuesday night, despite opposition from parents and a claim that the majority of kindergarten teachers do not support this shift.

Only board member Camille Townsend opposed the proposal, which was recommended by Superintendent Max McGee with the consensus of all 12 elementary-school principals, he said Tuesday.

McGee offered this recommendation after initially making two weeks ago what he described as a "compromise" proposal to extend the kindergarten day only two days a week at some schools and four days a week at others. He said he reconsidered the compromise after the board expressed concerns over a lack of consistency among the schools.

The board members cast their votes after hearing from several concerned parents and teachers that moving to a longer kindergarten day will harm, not benefit, students. Several teachers maintained that the current model in place at most schools, where one half of each class stays longer two days a week, is the best way to provide small-group instruction and maintain a balance between academics and play. Opponents also drew a connection between the longer school day and higher stress levels, even at this young age.

"A vote for full-day kindergarten is a vote to make kindergarten look like first grade," said Escondido Elementary School kindergarten teacher Debbie Scalero. "It is a vote to watch the magic, creativity and wonder of kindergarten dramatically decline."

"Please, please hear us: Longer kindergarten is not better kindergarten," said Duveneck Elementary School parent Julie Tomasz, who last month started an online petition against full-day kindergarten. The petition has since garnered 146 signatures.

Speakers also urged the board to press pause on what they felt was a "rushed" process to put a change in place by this fall. They asked how the district planned to make this change without the full backing of the very teachers who will be responsible for implementation. Several board members, too, asked for more details around an implementation plan.

McGee said he was confident that principals and teachers will be able to work together at individual sites to successfully shift to the longer day.

"I know clearly that this recommendation is not what the majority of the kindergarten teachers prefer but I will tell you that I believe in my heart of hearts that this recommendation model best serves all students, and that is my job as superintendent," he said.

The catalyst for the full-day shift was a recommendation from McGee's Minority Achievement and Talent Development (MATD) committee, which said that leveling the playing field for historically underrepresented students at the earliest point in their district careers was key to helping to reduce Palo Alto Unified's longstanding achievement gap.

Proponents of full-day kindergarten, including current teachers at Barron Park, have also said that the longer day allows for a more relaxed, balanced pace and, in fact, means more small-group time with students throughout the day, not less.

A few speakers did offer support for full-day kindergarten Tuesday night, including parent and MATD member Gina Dalma. In months of research, data analysis and focus groups, the group found that full-day kindergarten is "one of the single most impactful strategies" to closing the achievement gap," she said.

"Why the rush?" she asked. "Because our kids are entering behind."

"This is our opportunity to be a lighthouse district on kindergarten," she added. "Sadly, today, we are not."

Under the new model, all kindergartners will attend school for the full primary day, starting in mid-October. This will be a significant change for some, but not all of Palo Alto's elementary schools. Barron Park and Palo Verde elementary schools already offer a longer school day four days a week (except Wednesday, which is an early-dismissal day at all elementary schools), but the other 10 schools operate on the extended half-day model.

McGee has recommended that the elementary schools cap the maximum number of weekly instructional minutes at 1,550, which is the current number at Barron Park.

All kindergarten classrooms will now 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. Those dollars can 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.

While parents will have the option to opt out of the longer day and pick their child up at lunch, some expressed concern that this would put their children at an educational disadvantage.

Jenny Nixon, the parent of an incoming kindergartner, said looking at the current Barron Park and Palo Verde kindergarten schedules, her daughter would miss literacy, math and science lessons in the afternoon if she were to opt out.

Longtime teacher Jill Dineen, who served on a district "think tank" group that considered different potential kindergarten models this spring, criticized the opt-out option and said it will mean "asking kindergarten teachers to make it an academic morning."

Board members who supported the proposal noted that full-day kindergarten is not a "silver bullet" to close the achievement gap, but is a needed change that will ultimately benefit all students. Vice President Terry Godfrey did, however, state that she supported McGee's earlier proposal and was "troubled" that small-group time seems less "prominent" in the new model.

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell offered examples of neighboring districts who happily and successfully offer full-day kindergarten, including in Woodside and Menlo Park.

"As much as we may love what we have, it's not serving all our students," she said. "We have to do something different."

The board approved the funding for full-day kindergarten along with several other budget requests: high-school wellness center workers, breakfast for low-income elementary students, elementary reading specialists, staffing at the district office and the high school athletics programs.


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22 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 25, 2016 at 11:44 am

As a resident of Menlo Park with children I can say we did not happily go along with this. Our youngest was the last to do normal kindergarten 2 years back and the district pressured us every step of the way to decide to choose full day. We ended up being part of the only class in the district the last year before the change to all day kindergarten. Kids need more play time, not more butts in seats time at Kindergarten age and probably older.

6 people like this
Posted by Nancy Lowe
a resident of College Terrace
on May 25, 2016 at 11:53 am

Web Link

25 people like this
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 25, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Nothing more than a scheme to get the taxpayer to pay for someone else's daycare.

29 people like this
Posted by Hurry up and wait!
a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Have we lost our senses? On one hand, we are trying to decrease student stress at the high school level, yet we feel a need to increase academics in kindergarten?! Maybe we wouldn't need wellness center workers in high school if we didn't start putting academic pressure on the poor kids from kindergarten. Not all kids are entering behind academically, maybe we should focus on those students. I fear that painting with such a wide brush raises the performance bar even higher and we'll see an even greater achievement gap than we have now.

14 people like this
Posted by playplayplay
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 25, 2016 at 1:21 pm

You can't make everyone happy no matter what the decision. I remember in my kindergarten there was a playhouse and dolls and areas to make-believe, just like my daughter has at BING. If they will provide more of this play, art, play, music, playtime, socializing, recess in kindergarten I am all for it. Plus it'll be one pickup time for me for both my children. The back and forth just adds more traffic on the road. Don't add to the curriculum, just let them play and create and innovate with their peers in the afternoon.

16 people like this
Posted by Sheesh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2016 at 1:42 pm

For heaven's sake, kindergarten has been academic for twenty years now! The kids learn to read right off the bat, and are doing basic math by the end of the year. The private school expect kindergarteners to ALREADY know how to read when entering!

Kids today have to learn so much more information in the same number of years than ever before; it's just too little time to cram it all in. What most of the rest of the world does is to make the school day longer, even in high school, BUT put in way more breaks and recesses. The school year everywhere else is longer, with only one month for summer, though more holidays in between.

Perhaps this is the model we should use. The old, cruel Prussian model--which the US models our schools on-- is no longer used ANYWHERE else in the world due to its lack of success.

13 people like this
Posted by josh
a resident of Nixon School
on May 25, 2016 at 2:18 pm

As a supporter of full day kindergarten I would say that: -75% of the US has moved to this model including many of the poorest districts in the country w no evidence that it increases stress but good evidence that it help close achievement gaps.
-School and school systems thuat have full day kindergarten are happy with it as we heard from testimony (including Menlo Park and Woodside)
-Yes there are problems w stress in older kids in PAUSD but this cannot be blamed on full day kindergarten as it is not in place.
-Full day kindergarten allows for a more reasonable pace and more time for enrichment strategies like music and gym. The board specifically approved funding for these teachers.
-The existing schedule was implemented over 20 years ago as a comprimise at the time and it is not working for all students.
-The very different schedules at different schools in the district is an issue of justice as kids in the same school system have a very different experience only determined by their school placement.
-The current schedule is very hard on single parent working households or households w two working parents.
-The current schedule also leaves to gaps between those that can afford quality afterschool and those that cannot.
-Many parents and teachers supported this effort including an endorsement of the Nixon PTA.
-The principles of the schools in the district strongly supported this.
-Melissa Caswell, Heidi Emberling, Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey gave very persuasive arguments justifying their "yes" votes.

Change is not easy but parents that are worried about the negative consequences can still keep an abbreviated schedule.

I will be very interested in tge 3 year followup of this plan and strongly feel that in 3 years we will look back and wonder what the controversy was about.

8 people like this
Posted by A parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I agree - And if a given educational philosophy is important to parents, such as GATE support, or support for creativity, they need to realize that this district talks a big game but doesn't really follow through. The schools are generally terrible at supporting creativity, except maybe in Ohlone. Connections is a bait and switch after 6th grade, as they try to get the kids funneled back into the grind. Mostly creativity is punished. (Our teachers fit the research that shows teachers think they want creativity, but what they really reward is compliance and developmental advancement, meaning kids who are older and do what they're told.)

Kids are onlyl kids once. Instilling in them the qualities that made them great as assembliy line workers will not help them today. Even though we had a relatively good elementary experience, I kept making excuses to myself for why it was so academic and why it was so hard on creativity, and kept expecting things would get better.

10 people like this
Posted by jenny
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2016 at 6:30 pm

I was at the board meeting last night as well and Camille, Melissa, Terry and Ken all raised valid points about our ability to roll out full-day Kindergarten this Fall. Namely, how do we do it well when 90%+ of the teachers are not on board? Camille voted no because she didn't feel the teachers were bought into the change. Now they're expected to create this new curriculum with less than a week left in the school year? I'm really bummed out for my daughter because I think it can be done well, but certainly not this late in the game. Melissa raved about the programs at Woodside and Menlo Park with cooking, etc. I don't see how we can implement all those cool pieces of the curriculum with so little time. And the opt-out option is a huge can of worms. I guess I have to come to accept that I'm the unlucky one that fell into the transition year. I just feel like it didn't have to unravel this way.

10 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2016 at 8:12 pm

I wonder when an error free recital of multiplication tables will be a requirement to 'graduate' from kindergarten in PAUSD?

4 people like this
Posted by Parent of three
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 25, 2016 at 8:42 pm

[Portion removed.] I've read the research, we've got the resources, and Jill and the PAEA gang can not only make this work, but they can make it better with full day kindergarten. Stop whining, get moving, and bask in the adulation that I am waiting to give you all.

2 people like this
Posted by confused
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 26, 2016 at 9:30 am

Longer day, with more kids in the classroom is better than small group learning with half the class? Hmmmm
Well, at least we get daycare! Duveneck Kids Club already raised their rates because of this, BTW....

3 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2016 at 10:39 am

You make some very good points, including that the current schedule is confusing. But the concern of an overly academic kindergarten is very real - if those concerns can be addressed, why haven't they been under the current system? The only reason we send ours into kindergarten was the reduced schedule. Providing an option is not realistic, because the system will create the idea that those kids are missing out, and the kids will be made to feel inferior (said based on copious experience in this district). In hindsight, even with the reduced schedule, I think our schools are too academic too early. (Said as a parent whose 10th grader will be taking calculus next year, I"m not against age-appropriate interest-driven academics.)

The potential backlash is that there are now more options that are less expensive than all out private school, including homeschool. Today there are more kids in homeschool than in charter schools, and it's the fastest growing segment - nearly half as many as are in private school and growing. One fast growing segment is well-educated African-Americans, in order to give their kids the best education without all the negatives of school. As a group, independently schooled/homeschooled tend to do better academically than the average, and tend to be far more intrinsically motivated and independent when they move on to college. As was previously noted, there are a plethora of new innovative offerings in this area that allow people to "homeschool" even if both parents work, by sending kids to ala carte offerings that may offer more interesting and hands-on learning environments, even far less expensive than private school. According to one of the previous stories, the district is worried about competition ("competition" being what McGee said) from such offerings, and they should be, since the district shows no signs of moving away from the everything-comes-from-the-top model of "innovation").

It will be interesting to see if a lot of parents opt out entirely and decide to give their kids a more holistic early education. I kind of doubt it - honestly, despite the criticisms, and personally wishing we'd had some of these other resources for our own, I think our elementary schools are pretty good. But if people do opt out, that's probably the only way things will move away from the overly academic. If there's one thing parents should know by now, it's don't believe any promises from district administration.

10 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 26, 2016 at 1:03 pm

This is only good for working parents and the VTP children. The schools should have core work in the first half of the day so others can leave early. Those who are still there can have free time while others can receive extra help.

This decision would be more appropriate for schools with less educated parents. I guess this makes McGee look good by addressing the achievement gap. But how many minorities are there and why would the majority of students have to stay all day because of some non-resident students who can't keep up?

Truthfully, the achievement gap only worsens as the children age and academics get rigorous. Students turn to parents and tutors for help while others have parents who can't help them nor money for tutors. Meanwhile, regular students struggle even with extra help. I wonder how many students attend the after school homework help at Jordan and how many struggling students (who have no one but teachers to help them) visit their teachers for help. From what I hear, many of them don't ask for extra help. You can lead a horse to water, but can't make them drink; we have way too much water.

18 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2016 at 2:11 pm

The issue as I see it is not how long the children are in kindergarten each day but how much time they are spending at home. If this is just appeasing working parents to give them free day care then this is wrong. If this is just an exercise in getting more children institutionalized then this is wrong. If this is just another stress being put on already over scheduled 5 and 6 year olds, then this is wrong.

Children of this age do need some structure, some challenge, some socialization, some institutional rules and some academic as well as enrichment activities that kindergarten brings. But they also need some time each day at home without these things. For every hour spent away from the home doing school, or doing (swim, music, art, sport) class, or doing play, they need an equal hour at home in their own space. They need time without rules, without structure, without having to share, without having to take turns, without having to wait and without having a clock to tell them to change activity or tidy up their toys. They need to be able to play with their own toys for as long as they want, to be able to daydream, to be able to help a parent fix a meal or sort laundry, and in fact to be bored. It is only through allowing a child to have some down time in their safe space that they have time to find their passions, to dream or aspire, and to develop their own personality and character, without being expected to become a carbon copy of every other child in the class. Their individuality blossoms from time spent on their own, doing what they feel like doing at any given time and by exploring what gives them security in their own home.

If a child spends all the day away from their safe space at home, if they are just being rushed from one activity to another, changing clothes and eating in the car rather than having an extended time in their own home among their own things, then they are missing out on one of the treasures of childhood.

Kindergarten should not be overscheduling 5 and 6 year olds. Many will just end up having a longer day away from home. Few will really need and benefit from the extra hours of institutionalization.

2 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2016 at 5:30 pm

@taxpayer wrote:

"Nothing more than a scheme to get the taxpayer to pay for someone else's daycare."

And at what cost to the kids in kindergarten? Or is that missing the point?

Like this comment
Posted by Nancy Drew
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2016 at 7:31 am

[Post removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by hard to swallow
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2016 at 10:11 am

Since Max is asking the majority of us to sacrifice our kids for the greater good, I wish he had done a better job with the facts and evidence. Our own data from Palo Verde and Barron Park show that kids actually did WORSE in full day programs.

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

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