What would it take for Loudoun County Public Schools to implement a full-day kindergarten program?
"It would take 80 new classrooms for us to implement a full-day kindergarten program," said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Sharon Ackerman. "Something that is becoming more and more popular across the country and in Virginia."
In a recent study conducted by Prince William County Public Schools, shows full-day kindergarten is a more effective way to close the achievement gap, than half-day kindergarten.
Virginia Department of Education spokesperson Charles Pyle said decisions about tailoring kindergarten programs are made at the local level. Only nine Virginia counties, including Loudoun do not offer full-day kindergarten to all students.
"It’s not that we aren’t aware of the benefits of full-day kindergarten, but there are few places like Loudoun County with comparable growth. We will have to phase this program in," Ackerman said.
And they have.
IN APRIL, the Board of Supervisors cut $24 million from the School Board’s initial budget request. However, the School Board was able to retain a few initiatives including a focused approach to full-day kindergarten, meaning full-day kindergarten is offered to "at-risk children," Ackerman said.
"Some students benefit more from full-day kindergarten than others," she said. "Those are the students we are serving."
Students eligible to enroll in the full-day kindergarten program must be enrolled in one of three programs, the federally funded Head Start program which assists 3- and 4-year-old children from low-income families, the locally-funded Starting Towards Excellence in Preschool (STEP) program designed to offer services to 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families who are not eligible for Head Start, or the special-education early childhood classes.
"The students eligible are a very specific group of students," Ackerman said. "We’re drawing children who, research shows, would benefit most from full-day kindergarten. It is designed so students start on a more even playing field with other students coming into kindergarten."
Currently, seven Loudoun County public schools offer a full-day kindergarten program. Cool Spring, Countryside, Frances Hazel Reid, Legacy, Newton-Lee and Sugarland elementary schools have one full-day kindergarten class. Sully Elementary School has two classes.
"With this budget we will be able to add a full-day kindergarten class at Mountain View Elementary to serve students in the western part of Loudoun," Ackerman said. "We will serve right up through Leesburg next year."
THE COUNTY plans to phase full-day kindergarten into all schools over time.
"Loudoun County does have a number of students getting the full-day experience," Ackerman said.
Kindergarten students, who, through screening, need English as a Second Language (ESL) class, are in school all day. Students that qualify for language help attend Loudoun’s half-day kindergarten program as well as an ESL class at their home school.
School Board vice chairman Thomas Reed (At Large) won’t be satisfied until all Loudoun County students receive full-day kindergarten.
"I think I’ve advocated for full-day kindergarten longer than anyone else on the School Board," Reed said. "I tried to get it in the goals this year and was unsuccessful, but I have a plan."
Reed said he thinks the implementation of full-day kindergarten this year was unsuccessful for two reasons, cost and space. Reed estimated full-day kindergarten would cost the county $25 million.
He hopes the School Board will appropriate money to the program in time for fiscal year 2008’s capital improvements budget.
"I want this initiative to be a separate question on the November 2007 bond vote," Reed sad, "The voters should have a direct choice in this decision."