Proposed Changes to Snoqualmie Valley's Kindergarten Education Model Creates A Buzz

Oh, kindergarten, I remember it well with each of my four kids.  As a parent it’s a big life step – for both child and parent.  It’s the first step into the educational system that takes a child through high school and many hope, on to college.  So when there is talk of changing the foundation that many know as kindergarten, discussion ensues and debate arises.

Kindergarten is the same in much of Washington – and all the Snoqualmie Valley.  Typically kindergarteners attend school five days per week for a half day.  Because of SVSD Friday early releases, kindergarteners alternate going to school every other Friday for a full “half-day”  instead of a very short school day each Friday. The district also has a lottery, tuition-based full-day kindergarten program.

State-wide, school districts are cutting budgets due to state budget shortfalls.  The ongoing recession has resulted in less basic education funding.  Districts have been forced to find new and creative ways to trim costs, ones that hopefully don’t involve laying off teachers.  Half-day kindergarten now finds itself as a potential budget-cutting option as SVSD prepares to potentially shave $2 million (or 4%) from next year’s operating budget.

Two weeks ago a proposal was presented to the school board that redefines half-day kindergarten.  Instead of  SVSD kindergarteners attending  half-day school Monday-Thursday one week and Monday-Friday the next, SVSD is proposing an alternating full-day kindergarten model.  Half of students would attend school full-day on Monday/Wednesday and the other half on Tuesday/Thursday.  They would then alternate every other Friday to compensate for the early release day.  SVSD says the kindergarten model change would save up to $156,000 each year.  The biggest savings would be from transportation costs – fuel and bus driver salaries.   Currently, Washington State does not reimburse school districts for the mid-day bus routes that transport kindergarteners to/from their half day of instruction.

The proposal has created a buzz around the valley, which is home to a lot of young families.  In a question posed yesterday on the Living Snoqualmie Facebook page, most parents who replied were not in favor of the kindergarten model change.  The overwhelming sentiment being that the proposal is too big of an educational risk to young students.  Many parents attended informational meetings in Fall City and North Bend this week.  They listened to the proposal with sympathetic ears, knowing the budget crunch SVSD faces.  In the end, though, many hope the district will find other cost-cutting options and keep the current kindergarten model in place.  Some parents even proposed parent-funded busing or parental responsibility for the mid-day pick-up/drop-off as ways to keep the current system intact.

Parents fear children won’t learn as well if not attending school every day.  An incoming-kindergarten parent says that if her child is sick on a Wednesday during her “non-Friday” school week, she could forget everything learned before going back to school the following Monday and possibly not feel part of the class.  Other parents simply worry kindergarteners are not ready for a full-day of school at such a young age, especially if two days of curriculum are combined into one full day of kindergarten.

SVSD says the change amounts to more contact time between teacher and student.  That is true, but parents maintain it’s not always about the total contact minutes, but more about the consistency and routine that the every day schedule provides 5 and 6-year-olds.  If they are not in school each day they could forget what they’ve learned.  Parents say every day school provides the best retention level for young students.

Don McConkey, SVSD Assistant Superintendent, says Snoqualmie Valley kindergarten teachers support the model change, “but have questions.”  He also noted that educational studies have found little difference in students’ academics and development with the current and proposed model.  Parents say 1st grade teachers should be consulted, as they will see the success or failure of the proposed change the following year.

McConkey said some pros to the proposed model were students riding the bus with siblings, an unhurried learning environment, smoother transition to 1st grade, exposure to lunchroom routines.  Some noted cons were some students being too young for full day school, a loss of consistency, a loss of support for at-risk students, difficulty establishing routines and remembering lessons and possible loss of teacher prep time.

District budget planning begins in March so a decision will happen soon.  The district and school board are very interested in hearing from parents about the proposed change.  If you want to learn more and share your thoughts visit the SVSD website.

The proposed kindergarten model is on the school board meeting agenda again this evening, February 9th, 7:30PM, at the District Office, 8001 Silva Ave in Historic Snoqualmie.  Do you have an in-coming kindergartener?  If so, leave a comment.

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