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New Ken-Arnold school district drops full-day kindergarten

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 7:30 a.m.

A divided New Kensington-Arnold school board on Thursday decided to reduce all kindergarten classes to half-day for the 2013-14 school year.

Superintendent John Pallone said finances were a factor, but streamlining education and reducing class sizes also played into the decision.

The district will offer 12 half-day classes at its three primary schools plus a 13th “advantage” half-day kindergarten class that ideally will be used for students who need additional instruction, Pallone said. However, if the district gets an unexpected influx of students at the start of the school year, the 13th class may have to be a regular kindergarten section.

Pallone said there are conflicting opinions on whether keeping 5-year-olds in class for a full day is appropriate for their development.

Board member Regina Namey said an estimated 80 percent of the district's kindergarten students haven't attended a preschool program — making full-day kindergarten a difficult adjustment.

Additionally, she said they looked at research that showed by the time students reach third grade, there isn't statistical evidence showing students who attended full-day kindergarten perform any better than those who went for only a half-day.

“It's a hearth-wrenching decision to make,” said Namey, a retired elementary physical education teacher.

She said she agreed to the switch because she knows the district is struggling to balance the budget for 2013-14. She said she won't agree to any additions to next year's budget while educational programming is being trimmed.

Pallone said the kindergarten reduction should save about $120,000.

The board approved the half-day kindergarten plans in a 5-3 vote, with Namey, board President Bob Pallone, Eric Doutt, Jason Fularz and Pat Petit consenting. Members Marilyn Claassen, Liney Glenn and Deb Glushenko were opposed, and George Zavadak was absent.

“I don't think any amount of money that you save is worth a child's education,” said Glushenko, adding that she has several young grandchildren who soon will be attending school and she worries they will be negatively impacted by the change.

Namey said she understood why some directors voted against half-day kindergarten. She said they can reverse course in the future if they find the half-day classes are detrimental or if the district's financial situation changes.

Namey said some advantages will include the ability to offer smaller classes and more focused instruction in reading and math.

The district also is offering an additional preschool class next year, bringing the total to two preschool classes at Fort Crawford and one at Martin. The preschools are funded through a state Keystones to Opportunity grant.

Pallone said the additional preschool class should improve the district's offerings for early childhood education — which, in turn, should improve students' kindergarten performance.

The district also again will offer the grant-funded “Ready Freddy” summer transition program for incoming kindergarten students.

Pallone said students and their parents will be invited to spend about six evenings over the summer meeting classmates, touring the schools, riding a school bus and participating in other activities that will prepare the children for school.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 orlhayes@tribweb.com.

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