Schools move quickly, but not easily, into all-day kindergarten • Idaho Capital Sun

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on April 7, 2022

West Ada and Twin Falls school leaders didn’t waste any time.

Days after the Legislature pumped an additional $46.6 million into early literacy, the two districts announced plans to launch all-day kindergarten this fall.

And the Boise School District actually beat both districts out of the gate. Boise announced its all-day kindergarten plans in January — betting, correctly, that lawmakers would heed Gov. Brad Little’s call for more money literacy.

West Ada, Twin Falls and Boise are doing exactly what Little and his legislative allies envisioned. They are choosing to put some of their new literacy money into tuition-free all-day kindergarten, supplementing the funding they already receive for a half day of kindergarten.

Gov. Brad Little reads to students at Kuna’s Reed Elementary School Thursday, at an event celebrating the state’s $46.6 million increase in literacy spending. Little said he wasn’t surprised that the West Ada and Twin Falls school districts would use the money for all-day kindergarten. And while he says it will take time for districts to find qualified teachers, he expects other schools to eventually follow suit and offer full-day kindergarten. “I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t become universal,” he said. Kevin Richert/Idaho EdNews

But moving quickly is not the same as moving easily. And there’s nothing simple about the move to all-day kindergarten.

First, the bottom line questions

Schools will certainly get more money for literacy. The funding increase moves the literacy line item from $26 million to more than $72 million.

But no one knows how much of the $72 million will go to a particular district or charter. Those payments will be based, in part, on spring Idaho Reading Indicator scores. Kindergarten through third-grade students will take the screener later this month.

And as legislators wrestled with the literacy of this session’s proposals, they fundamentally changed the way the state will divvy up the money.

For several years, the state targeted the money to at-risk readers — based on the number of students who scored below grade level on the IRI.

But starting July 1, half of the $72 million will go out based on enrollment, and the other half will go out based on students who hit grade level on the IRI or show improvement. (There is some weighting in the formula to account for economically disadvantaged students.)

Some lawmakers argued that they no longer wanted to reward schools for failure, preferring to instead incentivize success. But the new formula has some education leaders nervous.

In an Idaho Education News podcast airing Friday, Idaho Association of School Administrators executive director Andy Grover said he wants to see how the math shakes out in the next year, to make sure the state isn’t penalizing districts and students “who needs the most help.”

Striking a spending balance

Idaho School Boards Association deputy director Quinn Perry said she is excited to see schools step up to offer all-day kindergarten. But she doesn’t expect every district to follow suit, and she said schools need to be cautious.

“You would be a fool if you dumped all that (new) money into kindergarten, because 50% of the funding is now dependent on your K-3 readers,” Perry said in this week’s podcast.

Indeed, the literacy money has gone out to schools with few restrictions. Some schools have already used the money for all-day kindergarten; Boise has put about a tenth of its $1.6 million in literacy funding for all-day kindergarten tuition waivers at Jefferson and Taft elementary schools.

But schools have the green light to spend literacy dollars on anything they believe will help K-3 readers — and that mixed approach is unlikely to change.

Boise has put most of its $1.6 million into hiring reading specialists and reading tutors, although the district plans to shift its approach to a “learning coach” model, designed to help K-3 teachers work more effectively with at-risk readers, within the traditional classroom.

Similarly, Twin Falls has already put some of its money into free full-day kindergarten in five of its nine elementary schools, focusing on students who show up behind in their early reading skills. The district has also put literacy money into a host of other programs, such as hiring paraprofessionals that allow the schools to work with at-risk readers in small groups. “That work will all continue,” elementary programs director Jennie Peterson said.

Logistical challenges

None of the three large districts are launching their all-day kindergarten programs from scratch. About 40% of Boise’s 1,405 kindergartners are already in full-time classes, as are close to a third of West Ada’s 2,467 kindergartners.

But the two largest districts will face some logistical hurdles as they launch into all-day kindergarten.

The chronically crowded West Ada district should have adequate space in their grade schools for the expanded kinder classes, but the Galileo STEM Academy will need to use a portable classroom, district spokesperson Niki Scheppers said.

Then there’s the matter of hiring. West Ada will need an additional 33 teachers for all-day kindergarten. Twin Falls will need nine to 11 new teachers. Boise is looking to add 37 full-time jobs — and possibly more support positions, in special education, physical education and music, spokesman Dan Hollar said.

Then there’s transportation. West Ada won’t know how all-day kindergarten will affect their transportation programs until student enrollment wraps up this month, Scheppers said. Boise is banking on a savings of $175,000 as it eliminates some midday bus routes, Hollar said.

But that dovetails into another logistical issue: Boise isn’t yet sure if it will eliminate half-day kindergarten, or continue to offer it as an option for parents who prefer it. “We will be gauging the interest level, if there is any,” Hollar said Wednesday.

‘We are not going to flashcard our way out of this’

Beth Oppenheimer — executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, and a Boise school trustee — is well aware of the unanswered questions about all-day kindergarten.

But she is excited to see Boise and other districts jumping on board, because she is excited about the potential. Teachers will have the luxury of time, to work both with their at-risk students and children who are at grade level. As parents start their young children off with a full day in school, she expects parents to become more engaged in the education process — not less. And young kids will have more time in a safe, structured setting, picking up the social skills that might ultimately be more important than their ABCs and 1, 2, 3s.

Oppenheimer doesn’t really begrudge the fact that Idaho public policy has basically intertwined all-day kindergarten with early literacy. People want something measurable — and reading scores are more tangible than social skills.

But even after school work through the logistics and launching an all-day kindergarten, she said, it won’t solve everything. Less than 41% of kindergartners showed up last fall ready to learn to read, according to the IRI scores — and until Idaho changes the way it approaches early childhood development, those grim numbers aren’t likely to change.

“We are not going to flashcard our way out of this,” she said.

Kevin Richert writes a weekly analysis on education policy and education politics. Look for his stories each Thursday.

Listen Friday: Now that the 2022 legislative session is history, how will schools spend their literacy money — and roll out all the other new laws passed this winter? Kevin Richert will explore these issues in his next weekly podcast.

Education: Kindergarten Class

Concord Road Elementary School in Ardsley on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.

Concord Road Elementary School in Ardsley on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.

John Meore/The Journal News

Kindergarten teacher Christine Dobbs runs her class of in-school and remote students at Concord Road Elementary School in Ardsley on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.

Kindergarten teacher Christine Dobbs runs her class of in-school and remote students at Concord Road Elementary School in Ardsley on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.

John Meore/The Journal News

This Salinas kindergarten teacher is getting creative with social media

Ben Cogswell

Remote learning and working are the new “normal.”

What does that mean for the young ones, 5 and 6 years old, who were about to start their educational journey in kindergarten? While adults may have a difficult time adapting to the remote world, children have an even greater challenge ahead.

But not all hope is lost.

Ben Cogswell, a tech-savvy Bardin Elementary School kindergarten teacher, has a plan and he’s sharing it across the web.

In his third year of teaching at Bardin Elementary, things took a rapid turn when a district-wide school shutdown was announced. However, it switched a lightbulb on in the Salinas teacher’s head — social media is the answer.

New kindergarten officially unveiled | Docklands News

The new kindergarten co-located at Docklands Primary School was officially opened last month with a visit from Minister for Early Childhood Ingrid Stitt.

Minister Stitt joined students and educators, Member for Northern Metropolitan Sheena Watt and Docklands Primary School principal Adam Bright in celebrating the important milestone for the Docklands community on April 22.

Gowrie Docklands Kindergarten includes two children’s rooms and outdoor learning terraces on the first floor of the school. Gowrie Victoria is the approved provider and will offer sessional and integrated kindergarten programs for both three- and four-year-old children.

“We know that education begins much earlier than a child’s first step into primary school. This new kindergarten gives Docklands children the early years center and education they need and deserve,” Minister Stitt said.

Gowrie Docklands Kindergarten is the first of nine kindergartens on school sites already announced as part of a $283 million state government program.

The government has delivered a number of new kindergartens on existing school sites each year to support the roll-out of three-year-old kindergartens, and the co-location of services. It has continued this trend by ensuring that every Victorian primary school to open from 2021 will have a kindergarten on-site or next door.

This includes Docklands Primary School and the other nine new primary schools which opened in 2021, as well as all six new primary schools opening in 2022 •

For more information: gowrievictoria.org.au

Palm Beach County school leaders stress importance of VPK

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — New numbers show only about half of Palm Beach County kindergarten students were considered “kindergarten-ready” when they entered elementary school this year.

It comes as parents of Florida 4-year-olds are getting their kids enrolled in voluntary pre-kindergarten, or VPK, for next school year.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education

At Kiddie Haven Preschool, west of Lake Worth Beach, voluntary pre-kindergarten is about more than letters and numbers.

“It’s also about social skills, meaningful relationships, and interactions,” preschool director Odalys Gonzalez said. “They are exposed to the diversity that is around them, and they get to see the world through a different perspective.”

Gonzalez said the VPK experience is crucial to prepare little minds for what’s to come.

“The environment we create promotes self-esteem, curiosity. The children overcome challenges every day,” Gonzalez said.

The children at Kiddie Haven Preschool follow a schedule to get them ready for that kindergarten experience. VPK covers three hours of the day, but parents can enroll them for longer.

“We would like the state to consider doing a full day of VPK. And personally, I would like to start seeing them fund 3-year-olds as well,” said Palm Beach County School Board member Erica Whitfield.

Whitfield wants more funding to expand early childhood education opportunities.

Records show only about 50% of kindergarteners in the School District of Palm Beach County were considered “kindergarten-ready,” based on testing in the beginning of the school year.

Some schools, according to Whitfield, were below 20%.

“That is where we see the biggest gap in our system is the kids who participated in pre-K and those that didn’t and how different they were when they came in and continue to be different,” Whitfield said. “We’re always playing catch-up with those kids who don’t have those opportunities.”

Whitfield added the school district is working to strengthen relationships between early childhood education providers and the elementary schools nearby.

The Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County is there to help parents find a VPK center that’s right for them and go through the enrollment process.

The coalition encourages parents of 4-year-olds to sign up for VPK now, as spots fill up quickly for next year.

Erin Gallagher, the division vice president for communications and planning at the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, said they have a team ready to talk to parents about what they are looking for in quality child care.

Gallagher said VPK enrollment numbers have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels at more than 12,000 students a year.

“The transition to kindergarten is a big step, not just for our 4-year-olds, but for their families and caregivers. So we’re thrilled our numbers are back to where they normally are,” Gallagher said. “We know there is still a group of children who don’t attend VPK for a variety of reasons every year, and we certainly understand that. We’d love to see that number continue to climb, so we’re encouraging all families to consider that for next year for their child.”

To obtain a VPK voucher to enroll your child, you can visit the Early Learning Coalition’s website by clicking here.

You can call the Early Learning Coalition’s Child Care Resource and Referral Center at 561-514-3300 to speak to someone who can help find the child care center that is right for you and your family.

Current enrollment is for children who will turn 4 years old by September 1, 2023. You will need proof of your child’s age and residency to obtain a voucher online from the ELC website.

For more information about what your child is expected to know, both socially and academically, when heading into kindergarten, click here.

Good news? More Maryland kindergarteners are ready for school. Bad news? It’s not nearly enough

About 42% of kindergarteners across Maryland are considered academically ready for the classroom this year. That’s an improvement on the state Kindergarten Readiness Assessment when only 40% were academically prepared last year, Maryland State Board of Education data shows.

But not nearly enough children are academically prepared for those statistics to be considered successful. Officials discussed the data during the Maryland State Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.

It’s an even more dire situation for the youngest students in Baltimore City, where 33% of kindergarteners are ready for school. About 39% demonstrated readiness in Baltimore County.

The assessment measures the knowledge, behavior, and skills of incoming kindergarteners and all students statewide are assessed. Teachers observe their students during school work and play between the first day of school in late August through Oct. 10.

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment

Maryland State Board of Education

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment

State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury, who oversees all the local school districts, said while there was an improvement, scores had not returned to the pre-pandemic level.

Before the pandemic about 47% of students demonstrated readiness across Maryland schools. Choudhury said the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, will require collaboration between preschools and local school systems.

“One of the things that the Blueprint is going to start doing is that the providers, whether it’s private or public, and the school system need to work together and they need to vertically articulate beyond just kindergarten transition activities,” Choudhury said.

Only 10% of English Language Learners, which means students whose first language is not English, were considered ready for kindergarten, state data shows. About 17% of students with disabilities were academically ready.

Those percentages have not been budgeted in the past year.

“Unless we do something for those babies, we’re not going to get differences when it comes to schools,” said Joan Mele-McCarthy, State Board of Education Member and Executive Director of The Summit School.

The Maryland State Board of Education is revamping its kindergarten assessment program, coined as KRA 3.0 in collaboration with the nonprofit organizations Center for Measurement Justice and WestEd. Students will be assessed using the new guidelines in Fall 2024. Spanish language speakers will have the opportunity to be assessed in their native language.

In addition to focusing on school readiness, Choudhury said it’s important to pay attention to the academic trajectory of the kindergarten students because there is often a decline in proficiency throughout the years.

“It’s one thing to be ready at kindergarten, it’s another thing to hold it steady, all the way up to there at the end of third grade. So we really need to think about it as an entire system,” he said.

San Diego’s 4-year-olds to get transitional kindergarten ahead of state rollout

State leaders have approved a rollout of universal transitional kindergarten over the next few years, but San Diego Unified will jump ahead and offer it to all 4-year-olds this fall.

Meanwhile at least five San Diego County districts do not offer transitional kindergarten and say they don’t plan to change.

San Diego Unified officials said they will offer at least 2,800 transitional kindergarten spots to families this fall. Any child in the district who turns 4 by Sept. 1 will be eligible for the program, which is being offered in 54 schools, district officials said.

“Regardless of where you live, regardless of where you work, we want you to come to school,” said Stephanie Ceminsky, director of early learning for the district.

The state promised in July it will begin funding universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in public schools by 2025. Children will be eligible if they turn 4 by Sept. 1.

But not all 4-year-olds will be able to get access to the early childhood education program; it may depend on which school district they attend.

At least five small, elementary-only school districts in some of the wealthiest parts of San Diego County — Cardiff, Del Mar, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach — do not provide any transitional kindergarten, even though state school officials say they have to.

Leaders of those districts have said they will not offer it unless the state gives them the money to do so.

They are called “basic aid” districts, meaning they get most of their money from local property taxes rather than from the state, unlike most public school districts, which get much of their funding from state per-pupil funds.

The five basic aid districts are North County, coastal districts, ranging in size from 547 students in Rancho Santa Fe to 4,900 students in Encinitas.

Most of those districts receive thousands more dollars in general revenue per student than the average California district — which some parent advocates have argued is all the more reason they should offer transitional kindergarten, like most other school districts do.

District leaders have said they can’t afford to offer transitional kindergarten without compromising other programs they find more important, such as smaller class sizes and science, technology, engineering and math programs at Del Mar, for example.

When reached by email recently all five superintendents of the basic aid districts said they had no plans to change or update their stance on transitional kindergarten.

The California Department of Education, which helps carry out state education laws, has said that state law requires all elementary school districts and charter schools to offer transitional kindergarten to age-eligible children.

Transitional kindergarten is an extra, optional grade that precedes kindergarten.

Child advocates say such early education opportunities are crucial to child development, bringing with them such benefits as higher academic achievement and a greater likelihood of graduating high school for students — and some much-needed child care for working parents.

Not only does transitional kindergarten teach academics, it also teaches young children how to act in school, said Valencia Park Elementary Principal Lori Moore, whose school helped pilot an expanded transitional kindergarten program in the San Diego Unified district.

In transitional kindergarten, kids learn the basics of school behavior, such as how to stand in line and how to keep your hands to yourself, she said.

“If you go into a kindergarten room, you can tell who has never been in a school right away,” Moore said.

But early childhood education is expensive and inaccessible for many families.

The state offers free preschool or child care only to families who meet narrow income requirements. Families who don’t qualify have to pay for preschool, which on average costs more than $15,000 a year in San Diego County, according to the YMCA Childcare Resource Service.

Transitional kindergarten, on the other hand, has until now been available to some children depending on when they were born.

Currently, only children throughout California who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 are guaranteed transitional kindergarten at their public school, a rule that many education advocates have said is arbitrary.

A state budget trailer bill passed in July will gradually expand state-funded transitional kindergarten to all children who turn 4 by Sept. 1.

It’s unlikely the five districts that do not offer transitional kindergarten will change their minds, because the new state budget trailer bill mirrors the same state law language that the five districts have used to justify not offering transitional kindergarten.

The budget trailer bill says school districts must provide transitional kindergarten to age-eligible children as a condition of receiving state funding — a condition that the basic aid districts have claimed does not apply to them.

San Diego Unified piloted its full-day, transitional kindergarten program last school year, opening it to 4-year-olds regardless of birthdate.

The program combines a transitional kindergarten teacher and a preschool teacher in the same classroom. The idea was a preschool teacher would bring expertise specific to developing younger children, such as using play-based learning, while a transitional kindergarten teacher would bring expertise on curriculum and educational standards.

Because it was a pilot program, it had limited space — it served about 1,000 4-year-olds in classrooms only at Title I schools, which serve low-income families.

There wasn’t enough room to meet demand; about 2,500 families originally applied and 480 were placed on a wait list, Ceminsky said.

This school year, Ceminsky said, the district can serve at least 2,800 transitional kindergarteners.

San Diego Unified does not know yet how many 4-year-olds there are in the district, she said, but the plan is to serve those students at 54 elementary schools where it offered the pilot program, then expand it across the district in the 2022-2023 school year.

Families living in San Diego Unified who want to enroll in transitional kindergarten can email [email protected] or apply directly at school sites starting Aug. 16, Ceminsky said.

If there is enough interest and school sites fill up, San Diego Unified will expand to accommodate every family, Ceminsky said.

Meet the kindergarten teacher with 80,000 students

For most parents, the smaller the class size the better when it comes to early education.

But that apparently doesn’t apply to Megan Jessens, who’s got 80,000 students and is making a difference for each one.

A former kindergarten and now part-time pre-k teacher, Jessens goes live on her Facebook group, Miss Megan’s Camp Kindergarten, each weekday morning at 10 am ET for an hour. On any given day, thousands of kids are watching her go over the calendar, letters, sight words and more.

She does it while teaching and managing her own two young children. She said that’s been the most challenging aspect, but it’s also helped her to “think outside the box” when it comes to parenting since she’s doing it in front of a live audience.

It was for her daughters — ages 6 and 4 — that she started kindergarten camp in the first place.

PHOTO: Meghan Jessen on April 21 at her "Camp Kindergarten" on Facebook.

Meghan Jessen on April 21 at her “Camp Kindergarten” on Facebook.

Meghan Jessen

“I’m an advocate of routine and structure,” she told “Good Morning America.” “I knew for my own girls we would do better with a morning routine. It helps me, too.”

Jessens thought he might be able to help out a few other kids too. So, she posted to her Facebook page to find out if anyone was interested. She had 15,000 people in her group before she ever went live.

By Monday, that number had grown to 87,000. It’s one of the largest Facebook groups to form since the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now more than ever, people are turning to tens of millions of Facebook Groups dedicated to every topic imaginable,” Facebook said in an email to “Good Morning America.” In fact, in the US, we’ve seen more than 4.5 million people join COVID-19 support groups on Facebook.”

In the six weeks since she began, Jessens said she’s yet to receive any negative feedback.

“It’s something for the kids to look forward to,” she said, and helps free up parents to help older kids with work while the younger children are engaged and learning. “It’s a win-win.”

Because most parents aren’t teachers, Jessens said, it’s helped give some insight into what goes on inside a kindergarten classroom. She plans to keep up her classes through the rest of the school year with summer to be determined.

Jessen said she never anticipated the way her online class has been taken off. But for her own family — and the ones watching — it’s been a constant they can count on, she said.

“We get up, we get dressed and we go to class. It’s the springboard for the rest of the day,” she said.