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No full-day kindergarten for Wellesley

Posted by Evan Allen  January 19, 2012 12:31 PM

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Full-day kindergarten is not in the cards for Wellesley children, at least not this year.

Superintendent Bella Wong, who proposed the shift to five full days a week last fall, did not include it in next year's school budget, which she presented to the School Committee this morning.

The program would have cost the district $450,000, she said – money that Wellesley simply does not have to spare.

“More often than not, everything we hope to have in the budget doesn’t make it into the budget,” she said. “This was not the financial climate to consider significant enhancements.”

Among other costs, a switch to full-day kindergarten would have required the creation of at least 19 new teaching assistant positions to help teachers deal with larger classes.

The town of Wellesley will likely need a Proposition 2 ½ override this year just to pay for the same level of services contained in last year’s budget, according to Finance Director Sheryl Strother.

The budget that Wong presented today includes an increase over last year’s budget of a little more than 6% – or more than $3.5 million dollars – just to cover level services.

Currently Wellesley kindergarten operates on a hybrid-schedule. Students are put into two groups in September, and on Mondays and Thursdays, one group has a half-day and the other stays for a full day. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they switch. Wednesday is a half-day for everyone. After April vacation, both groups shift to full days.

Wong floated the full-day kindergarten idea back in October, arguing that kindergarten was a critical year for children, and a full-day program would allow teachers to lay important foundations for years of learning. She also said that switching to a full day model could even the playing field for children whose parents can’t afford to give them a rich off-day experience.

It could also save parents money on child care, she said.

“There were many reasons why we thought this was a good thing for our kids,” said Wong.

But reactions from parents and staff were decidedly mixed.

Many parents argued that it was a case of fixing something that just wasn’t broken. Others worried that their children weren’t developmentally ready to go to school full-time. Teachers worried they’d lose quality time with children if their classes grew.

“There are parents who have said, absolutely, they would love it, and others who aren’t so sure,” said Wong. “For something to be that significant, we need to work on coming to a consensus within the community.”

Wong said she believed that people in the district would continue talking about full-day kindergarten as a possibility for the future.

“I would expect that it will come back,” she said, “but not as a part of this budget presentation.”

The School Committee is expected to vote on Wong’s budget next Wednesday or Thursday.

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