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Geneva School District 304 eyes full-day kindergarten option

Afternokindergarten students Genev304's HeartlElementary work centers teacher Chrissy Walker's class Wednesday. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

Afternoon kindergarten students at Geneva 304's Heartland Elementary work in centers in teacher Chrissy Walker's class on Wednesday. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 17, 2014 8:42AM

GENEVA — Geneva School District 304 could become the latest area district to offer full-day kindergarten next school year if board members approve the recommendation given by a district committee on Monday.

The 15-member committee made up of district administrators and teachers was tasked with studying options for the kindergarten program and presenting them to the school board.

The committee unanimously recommended that the district pay for full-day kindergarten for all students at their neighborhood school, with the option for children to leave midday if parents choose.

This approach would cost about $353,000 more per year than the district’s current program, plus a one-time start-up cost of $78,000. Most of the additional yearly cost comes from doubling the size of the teaching and assisting staff.

Right now the district offers half-day kindergarten, plus two specialized programs for some kindergarten students who have individualized education plans or need extra literacy help. Those students receive four days of full-day kindergarten a week at a centralized location.

In Illinois, school districts that offer full-day kindergarten also must offer a half-day program. As of this fall, 308 students were enrolled in kindergarten at Geneva.

Geneva’s School Board is considering three additional options: maintain half-day programming; offer full-day programming at each elementary school with a dedicated half-day program at a centralized location; or ask parents who want a full-day program to pay a monthly fee. In that scenario, the district would help pay for low-income students who want to be in the full-day program.

The full-day model with a centralized half-day program could cost $417,000 more than the district’s current approach per year, plus the start-up cost. The tuition-based program does not have a determined cost yet.

This is not the first time a committee tasked with looking at the district’s kindergarten program recommended a switch to district-funded, full-day kindergarten.

In 2008 a similar district committee also unanimously recommended that the school board approve full-day kindergarten for all students.

At the time there was no formal board vote on the matter, according to Andrew Barrett, the district’s director of learning and teaching. The district didn’t move forward with the recommendation, but the board kept the idea on its list of long-term goals.

“There were a lot more financial implications then,” Barrett said. “At the time we didn’t have the same facility capacity. We didn’t have enough space for [full-day kindergarten]. That situation is different now.”

Since 2008, the district has constructed two new elementary schools — Williamsburg Elementary and Fabyan Elementary — and renovated two others.

School districts across the country and around the Fox Valley also have increasingly moved to offer full-day kindergarten.

Since Geneva last looked at offering full-day kindergarten, it has been implemented in some form at St. Charles District 303, Kaneland District 302, Oswego District 308, Indian Prairie District 204, Wheaton-Warrenville District 200, West Aurora District 129 and Batavia District 101.

Naperville District 203, East Aurora District 131, Burlington-based District 301 and Elgin U-46 are preparing to offer it next year.

Barrett said the national trend toward offering full-day kindergarten has brought a heightened awareness of the service among parents, which has had an impact on moving the discussion forward at Geneva.

“One of the reasons that the board has kept it at the forefront and was prepared to revisit it is it’s an issue they do hear about from parents,” he said.

Another major change since 2008 is that Illinois has implemented the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, which raises the bar for what children need to learn by first grade. That puts increased focus on making sure children don’t fall behind at an early age, as research shows gaps that still exist by third grade are harder to close.

Geneva School Board members asked for more information about how the different options they are considering look at other local districts and how the program model affects enrollment, Barrett said. Board members also wanted more information about how the full-day kindergarten school day differs from half-day.

The board is slated to discuss the options again at their Jan. 27 meeting and take action on Feb. 10.

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