Full-day classes proposed for kindergarten

Publication Date: Friday Apr 17, 1998

SCHOOLS: Full-day classes proposed for kindergarten

Class-size reduction plan would lengthen school day to five hours

by Charlie Breitrose

A major change may be coming to Palo Alto's elementary schools: a full day of class for kindergarteners, as a part of the district's plan to reduce class size to 20 students. The plan, similar to the programs of two other districts in the area, will be offered at Tuesday's board meeting by Superintendent Don Phillips.

The typical Palo Alto kindergarten day currently runs a little over three hours. Under the proposed full-day schedule, school would be lengthened almost two hours, to the equivalent of a first- or second-grade class.

At Tuesday's meeting, Phillips will outline a plan to complete class-size reduction to a maximum of 20 students per class across the district, which has 740 kindergarteners. Only Juana Briones, Escondido, Walter Hays and Ohlone have reduced kindergarten class sizes this year.

The proposal calls for either implementing the full-day schedule from the beginning of the 1998-99 school year or phasing it in at some point during the year.

While other options have been explored, teachers say they each want their own classroom, and parents do not want to start school in the middle of the day. The staff report recommends the full-day model becuase it justifies both the additional effort associated with class-size reduction and the expense of providing five additional portable classrooms at $120,000 apiece.

Some parents who have heard of the plan are already lining up against it.

"I personally would rather have my kids home in the afternoon than at school," said Debbie Whitson, the parent of one current and one soon-to-be Walter Hays student. "I think the half-day kindergarten was a good transition from preschool three mornings a week for my daughter."

Whitson also signed a petition against the full-day kindergarten that is being circulated around the district by parents.

Barbara Liddell, associate superintendent for educational services, said the longer day could benefit students who come into kindergarten without a lot of prior schooling, as well as helping the teachers.

"There is research (on full-day kindergartens) that shows. for children with less pre-kindergarten, benefit from the full day," she said. "The most added benefit is to those students from disadvantaged backgrounds."

She added that because Palo Alto Unified has an "ambitious" kindergarten curriculum, teachers sometimes feel pressed to complete all the work in a half day.

"A longer day would allow the slowing down of the lessons, so they are not having to do it all in a half day," Liddell said. "The extra time also allows teachers to concentrate more on the social and emotional growth of our children."

School board member John Barton said he had not seen the proposal yet, but he said his gut feeling is that he would support it.

"If you can get kids in the classroom more hours, it's got to be good," Barton said. "Especially kids who did not have preschool programs, they need extra (class) time."

The recommendation comes from a study group of kindergarten teachers from each school of different options for kindergarten--half day, separate morning and afternoon classes with the same teacher, staggered day with two groups overlapping in the middle of the day, extended day (a full day once a week), and full day.

A districtwide survey found that PAUSD has four different schedules at its schools: 12 half day, 13 extended day, eight staggered day, and two teachers with separate morning and afternoon classes. Three teachers did not respond to the survey.

Liddell said that the study group and Phillips studied full-day programs in the Woodside Elementary and Santa Clara Unified school districts.

"We visited classes in the Santa Clara Unified that started the full-day schedule this year, and all the teachers were delighted with the program," Liddell said.

The school board will meet Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the district offices, 25 Churchill Ave. Liddell said the final decision will probably not be made until May 18. 

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