By Andrew Wroblewski
As the dust settled during Monday night’s meeting of the Northport-East Northport Board of Education, it became clear that parents, members of the board and district administrators were on the same side: half-day kindergarten has to go.
“We believe that it is time for the district to bring our kindergarten program up to the level of excellence afforded the rest of the students within the Northport-East Northport School District,” Mary Gilmore, co-president of the parent-teacher association at Ocean Avenue Elementary, said.
Gilmore was one of eight parents to speak at the William J. Brosnan School on the current kindergarten program. Parents with children in the Northport-East Northport School District, one of the few districts on Long Island offering only a half-day program, said three hours per day of school has hindered their children’s ability to develop into well-rounded students.
“Our teachers, parents and children are expected to absorb a full-day curriculum within three hours,” Tracy Bernson, also co-president of the parent-teacher association at Ocean Avenue Elementary, said. “When I ask my kindergartener what she did at school today, she rambles on from one curriculum-based activity to another. Where are the days of a child using their imagination or learning to interact socially with their peers?”
Due to the New York State adoption of the Common Core standards in 2010, teachers, Bernson said, are focusing the time they get with their students on finishing schoolwork and not socialization.
“Kindergarten is an essential part of the foundations upon which future social-emotional development is built,” Jody Schlanger, a Northport resident, said. “It’s time for Northport to make full-day kindergarten available for all of its students. As parents and educators, we have a duty to provide our children with the tools necessary to succeed in life.”
Other parents said full-day kindergarten could attract young families to the district. Sara Abbass, who just moved to Northport this past summer with her two children and husband from Wisconsin – where she said full-day kindergarten is standard – said she is excited to “set roots” in Northport, but may have thought twice had she known there was no full-day program.
“Had we known prior to the purchase of our home, we possibly would have reconsidered that purchase,” she said. “We want to welcome families here because of the opportunities, not ask them to reconsider for the lack of opportunities.”
Parents weren’t the only advocates for the full-day program, which is currently offered by neighboring district Commack. School board trustees were supportive and said a current study by Western Suffolk BOCES is being used to explore the costs of implementing a full-day program in the district.
“That shows you the level of commitment that this board has to getting the information so that we can have a clear understanding of what we’re talking about,” Trustee Stephen Waldenburg Jr. said.
Interim Superintendent Thomas Caramore said he supports a full-day program, but warned – as the budgeting process is set to begin in February – that there are a few “constraints” that could hinder implementation.
One potential constraint hinges on the BOCES study – which will be finished on Feb. 13 – as it will give an idea as to how big an influx of students could be expected should a full-day program be established. Another has to do with classrooms since, in accepting those students, some rooms may require renovation in order to house kindergarteners. Renovation could potentially require New York State approval, which Caramore is not confident would get done before the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
The last concern is budget constraints.
“My major concern is that the [2015-2016] budget passes,” Caramore said.
For those same budgeting reasons, a spokeswoman for the Elwood School District said, Elwood was forced to switch from a full-day program to a half-day program in 2011. After having full-day kindergarten in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, Elwood was forced to revert to half day in 2011-2012 and has maintained that ever since.
As Northport-East Northport Trustee David Badanes added, “everything costs money,” and to further progress the cause of implementing full-day kindergarten, he urged parents to reach out even further.
“Write to Senator [John] Flanagan, Senator [Carl] Marcellino [and] Assemblyman [Andrew] Raia,” he said, “because we are going to need as much money as we can get from New York State. Make sure you make your concerns known to the government and our representatives because that is going to greatly help [the] cause.”