Even in a budget crisis, the Delaware City Schools will offer full-day kindergarten next school year – sort of.
Kindergartners will go to class all day on either Tuesdays and Thursdays, or Wednesdays and Fridays. They will alternate on Mondays. That’s a departure from the current five half-day sessions.
The change will allow teachers to keep kids’ attention for six hours, avoiding the midday transition between kindergarten sessions. And, in the middle of a series of cuts districtwide, it will save more than $100,000 in busing costs – the equivalent of two teachers’ salaries, said Ted Backus, school board president.
“Not only does it save us money as a district, but the staff believes it’ll provide kids with a better education,” Backus said.
Of Ohio’s 611 districts, 137 offer an all-day, every-other-day model, said the Ohio Department of Education. Those include South-Western in Franklin County, Olentangy in Delaware County, Fairfield Union in Fairfield County, Jonathan Alder in Madison County, Marysville in Union County and five districts in Licking County: Heath, Lakewood, Newark, Northridge and Southwest Licking.
The state requires schools to provide 12.5 hours of kindergarten instruction per week. How districts provide it is up to them.
“It does seem that schools around the state are becoming a lot more creative and resourceful in terms of what they have to do to cut costs and still provide quality education,” said Patrick Gallaway, a spokesman for the department.
Marysville’s decision four years ago to offer alternating full days was both financial and educational, said Carla Steele, director of elementary curriculum and assessment. Students pick up an entire school day in instructional time every 10 class days.
“We looked at the consistency in being able to go deeper (with instruction) and to go for longer periods of time in class,” Steele said.
Olentangy has had a consolidated schedule since the 1980s. Students went to school all day two days a week and a half day on Friday. Last school year, the district switched to full days every other Friday. It has more than 1,300 kindergartners, and the move reduced busing costs by $100,000. It also added 8 days of instruction annually.
“I would hear from teachers, ‘I can’t get a lot done in a half day,’” said Laurie Feehan, Wyandot Run Elementary principal. “I don’t hear that anymore.”
There are drawbacks. Scheduling and child care could be tougher for parents to manage. There’s also the lack of consistency for kids, who could go for days without being in a classroom.
Kathy Siegrist’s daughter Ally, now in the first grade at Olentangy’s Cheshire Elementary, at first would ask whether it was a “school” day or “home” day, but she soon got the hang of the schedule. Not going to school for a few days didn’t seem to faze her.
“She picked up right where she left off,” Siegrist said. “She always had some type of homework assignment … that kind of kept the rhythm of doing some type of schoolwork Monday through Friday.”
Despite some districts’ success, the model isn’t a substitute for all-day, every-day kindergarten, said Patrick Callaghan, executive director of elementary education for South-Western schools. Students get the equivalent of only 89 full days, not the 178 that would have been mandated next year as part of the public-education program laid out by then-Gov. Ted Strickland. A bill reversing that policy directive has since been signed by Gov. John Kasich.
But at a time when districts can’t afford the millions of dollars it can cost to provide free all-day kindergarten, an alternating-day model is a consolation prize, said Marysville’s Steele.
“I think it’s a good transition step,” she said. “And I’m hoping that eventually, down the line, when we’ve got through the budget crisis, we could move to an all-day model.”