Kindergarten may shift to ‘full-day’ program

Full-day kindergarten may become a reality in Wilton as early as next September.

The Wilton Board of Education met Nov. 20 at Wilton High School to hear a proposal for building a more effective kindergarten program by extending class-time hours over the course of a school week.

Cheryl Jensen-Gerner, principal of Miller-Driscoll School, illustrated how a shift to "full-day kindergarten" could benefit students, faculty and parents by decompressing the town's extended-day program, which has already become cramped with a state curriculum designed for full-day programs.

The three varieties of kindergarten programs are full-day, which offers full days of class on each day of the week; half-day, which offers daily class time of only half the regular school day; and extended-day (Wilton's current model), which offers a blend of the half- and full-day programs.

Of the 23 districts in Fairfield County, 16 have full-day programs, three offer half-day, and only two — Wilton and Westport — offer extended-day, although Westport is transitioning to full-day.

"Just since last year, about 20 districts have gone to full-day, and they were all over the landscape — some were partial day, others were extended day," Ms. Jensen-Gerner said.

Wilton's program currently includes two days a week of half-day schedules, which is problematic, according to Ms. Jensen-Gerner, because the curriculum is too compressed.

"If you have more time, you have more opportunity for programming," she said, noting that Connecticut adopted statewide curriculum standards in 2010 that are tailored for a full day of school.

Some community members have voiced concerns that potentially unnecessary academic pressure might be put upon Wilton kindergartners if a transition is made, but Ms. Jensen-Gerner said there would not be "heavier" academics but rather more time each day to teach what is necessary.

"It gives the opportunity for more scheduling," she said. "It gives more flexibility across the day. It's more developmentally appropriate."

A full-day program would also assist parents by providing afternoon activities, especially important since they have mostly grown accustomed to full-day preschool programs.

Teachers would also be afforded a more effective and relaxed pace of curriculum coverage.

"Our kindergarten teachers have given this concept their stamp of approval, as has the entire administrative team," Board of Education Chairman Bruce Likly said in an email to The Bulletin. " Still, many issues have yet to be addressed, including the impact of five full days of school on those students who may struggle with the transition."

He said Mrs. Jensen-Gerner will put together a plan detailing how a full-day program would be rolled out, what the curriculum might look like, budget implications, and other logistical issues. "The board will be asked to vote on this topic in the coming months, with an eye toward implementing full-day kindergarten beginning with the 2013-14 school year," he said.

Also at the meeting, the school board lauded the recent conferral of the annual Connecticut Superintendent of the Year to school Superintendent Gary Richards; heard revisions to the school suicide-prevention program, which advocated for more communication with parents of "at-risk" students; and acknowledged progress for Middlebrook and high school rest room renovation projects.

The next Board of Education meeting is set for Thursday, Dec. 13, and will be held at 7 p.m. at the Wilton High School Professional Library.