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Should Newton kindgartners be in school for longer days?

Posted by Deidre Fernandes  September 20, 2012 01:26 PM

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Despite a new wave of calls from some parents to expand kindergarten, Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman said the school district is sticking with its current schedule.

At the Newton School Committee’s inaugural meeting of the new school year last week, several parents urged officials to consider offering full day kindergarten four days a week.

The district has an unusual hybrid model and provides full-day, small group kindergarten instruction for two days a week. For three days a week, kindergartners attend school for half a day.

But parents said students would benefit from spending more hours in the classroom. Children would get additional help, their transition from pre-school to kindergarten would be easier and the longer days would help working parents, they said.

“There’s always been some reason to delay,” said Newton resident Margaret Albright. “If we keep waiting for the perfect time, we may wait another 14 years.”

Parents are forced to pay for additional tutoring after-school for their children to make sure they don’t fall behind, said Emily Norton, a parent who helped organize this latest lobbying effort.

Newton officials have looked into providing full-day kindergarten, but it would be expensive, Fleishman said.

The district would want to hire aides for the kindergarten classes and that would cost $1.2 million, he said.

“You’re all in or not,” Fleishman said.

Newton surveyed several comparable districts, including Belmont, Brookline, Concord, Lexington and Lincoln, and they use aides.

Wellesley also recently considered full-day kindergarten and then scraped the plan because of the costs of the aides, Fleishman said.

Some parents said they aren’t convinced that the aides are necessary for the additional two-and-half hours of school.

“They need to prove that aides are necessary,” said Gloria Lara, a parent.

School Committee Vice Chairman Matt Hills said Newton’s kindergarten students are meeting benchmarks and he isn’t convinced that devoting additional resources to full-day instruction will address the educational concerns.

There are pockets of students at various elementary schools whose reading scores do lag as they move up the grades, Hills said.

The district is trying to address that issue by dispatching early intervention aides for both math and literacy in kindergarten through second grade, Hills said.

“We’ll see how we are in targeting the resources,” Hills said.

According to the recently released 2012 MCAS scores, 80 percent of Newton’s third-graders scored advanced or proficient on the reading tests, compared to the 61 percent of students statewide who did so. But in Memorial Spaulding and Franklin elementary schools, the proficiency rate for third-graders in English was 64 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

Amy O’Leary, the director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children, said children learn more in full-day kindergarten and more districts are expanding their programs. In 2000, 29 percent of children in Massachusetts were enrolled in full-day kindergarten. Now more than 80 percent attend some form of full-day program, including the one such as Newton offers, O’Leary said.

“Overall, we believe that kindergarten is a really critical transition year,” O’Leary said.

It’s unclear how many of the programs rely on teacher aides, she said. But having just one adult in classrooms with as many as 25 children, some of whom haven’t been in a structured setting before, can be daunting and impact the quality of education, O’Leary said.

“Class size matters in the early grades,” she said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at

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