Is There Really So Little Interest in Half-Day Kindergarten?
It’s difficult to say, considering how the Boise School District chose to adopt tuition-free, full-day kindergarten District-wide. The most current communication from 5/11/22 indicates that one, single half-day kindergarten class will be offered at Liberty Elementary for the 22/23 school year.
Is this really due to such low interest? Did the District put forth an “extensive effort” to ensure they were meeting the needs of families in the District? Was their outreach sufficient and does it accurately gauge parent interest? Would there have been greater interest if the District had been open and transparent with the community from the get-go, offered the half-day kindergarten option during the January board meeting, February webinar and March registration day like West Ada (even if they gave notice they might not have enough interest to provide half-day at every school), or sent out a press-release about adding half-day kindergarten next year rather than only contact current families in the District?
Obviously we can’t answer those questions because we don’t know how people would have responded under different circumstances or the impact varying levels of communication with families and community members would have had, but we would like to point out how closed this entire process was. Here’s a summary of the information we are familiar with: During the December 3, 2021 workshop, a parent noticed “Full Day Kindergarten Presentation” on the Board Workshop Agenda:
Not sure what this presentation would entail, being unable to attend the workshop in-person and being concerned that the presentation might include the elimination of the half-day kindergarten option, this parent submitted testimony. An anonymous trustee provided a vague response which misled the parent into believing that the board members would ONLY be receiving training to help prepare them for the anticipated kindergarten bills to be presented in the upcoming legislative session.
Six weeks later, at the January 10, 2022 Board Meeting, the Board unanimously approved tuition-free full-day kindergarten District-wide without a half-day option. Trustee Oppenheimer apologized for having so many questions since she did not attend the workshop (implying that the workshop HAD, in fact, included discussion about moving to full-day-only kindergarten and not merely about upcoming kindergarten legislation) and Deputy Super Intendent Roberts mentioned the “deep dive” changing the kindergarten plan that took place during the 12/3/22 workshop .
Trustee Oppenheimer asked about parents who still wanted half-day kindergarten. Trustee Schmidt referenced the above parent concerns during the meeting and said he would support full-day Kindergarten IF the District was willing to support and work with parents who still wanted the half-day option. Deputy Superintendent Lisa Roberts stated multiple times (at least here and here) the District would “absolutely” work with families who wanted to do half-day even though it would not formally be offered.
Trustee Hawes incorrectly assumed economically disadvantaged parents did not have equal access to full-day kindergarten before and that parents who participate in half-day kindergarten do so because they have no other choice. Currently, kindergarten tuition has a sliding scale based on income so economically disadvantaged families already qualify for free or redacted full-day kindergarten tuition and many parents who enroll their children in half-day make that choice intentionally.
Trustee Gregory herself wanted her kindergartners home with her half-day and yet seems to think that kindergartners who are not enrolled in full-day kindergarten now are on their devices at-home all day. Furthermore, the District thinks that offering full-day kindergarten district-wide will ensure 100% pre-literacy and pre-numeracy when students enter 1st grade. While the District and parents should STRIVE to achieve 100% achievement in every content area, it is not attainable or a realistic goal nor will blanket full-day kindergarten achieve it.
It is unfortunate that parents, teachers and the community were not given any notice that the kindergarten option 60% of families currently utilize (some by choice) would be eliminated or provided with any opportunities for input. In contrast, Idaho Falls brought up the issue during a board meeting, notified families and information was available on the news roughly ten days before their workshop to discuss and vote to approve District–wide, free, full-day kindergarten. After the decision had been made, the parent thanked the Trustees for approving full-day, tuition free kindergarten but expressed concern over the misleading response received regarding the 12/3/22 and asked if it might have been a violation of Open Meeting Law. The concern was addressed by the District attorney and the parent responded:
As anticipated, the Kindergarten Webinar released on February 22, 2022. The District re-iterated that half-day would not be formally offered, indicated that making a half-day (starting late, leaving early, etc.) would only be an option for the first month or so as the children adjusted to the routine of full-day school and downplayed the reality that many children simply aren’t ready for full-day kindergarten A different parent unaffiliated with our group, but with whom we connected started a parent group around providing kindergarten OPTIONS. Yet another parent pulled a public records request and found that the March Kindergarten registration for the 22/23 school year was the lowest that BSD has had in the last 7 years (the entire time of the requested record) DESPITE massive population growth and IN DEFIANCE of the District’s prediction that offering free, full day kindergarten District-wide would INCREASE kindergarten enrollment. Free full-day kindergarten does seem to be highly desirable at some schools, such as Riverside, Taft and White Pine, which saw a massive increase in kindergarten enrollment on the March registration day. But most other schools had about the same number of enrollments or even a significant decrease, such as Adams and Mountain View which had 1⁄3 fewer registrations or Monroe,Whittier and Valley View, which had roughly 1⁄2 fewer.
The April 11, 2022 Board Meeting (video and agenda) was the first board meeting in at least 18 months (likely even since pre-covid) where oral testimony was allowed. Buried deep in the Consent Agenda Items (E.5.a) was mention of Half-Day Kindergarten Communication without any information or details on what that meant. “V. Half Day Kindergarten Interest Communication Reviewed communication that will be going out to parents regarding any interest in half day only kindergarten.“
Three parents provided oral testimony and others wrote-in. Among the concerns raised in oral testimony were:
● requests the general public be included, as many families with incoming kindergartners do not yet have children in the District
● need for a survey
● outreach via news media to reach families not in the District
● should allow half-day kindergarten option on March registration day in the future to gauge interest at each school and adjust what is offered at each school based on demand
● communication should be broad, clear and with actionable so parents and staff can plan
● the District needs to honor the partnership between parents, teachers and the District, everyone needs to have input and clearly understand the options available with enough time to make an informed decision
● flexibility must be allowed to meet each student’s needs
● lack of transparency and parent/staff/community input during the process
● concern over hiring the anticipated 47+ new teachers required to accommodate full-day kindergarten when the District is currently in the middle of a staffing emergency and waiving some hiring requirements (Agenda item E.3.b). Three days later, on 4/14/22 a district-wide e-mail was sent out to gauge interest in limited half-day kindergarten. A minimum of 15 students are required, parents must commit to the program for the first semester, bussing is not provided and interested parents had two weeks from the date of the e-mail to contact their neighborhood school to express interest.
There was very little news coverage, little warning and time to express interest since the two week window started the day the e-mail was sent out. Furthermore, to the best of our knowledge, signs were not displayed at elementary schools, reader boards did not reflect the information, there was no information posted on school or the District website nor was the public notified. As a result, parents without children already in the District might not have been made aware of the change. Furthermore, some parents we spoke with had already decided to pursue other kindergarten options, such as homeschool or private school, and decided to stick with their plan rather than risk the District reversing course at the last-minute and being stuck without their desired option. That brings us back to where we started this post. This past Wednesday 5/11/22, the District announced they would be offering a single half-day kindergarten class at Liberty Elementary. We are thrilled this will be an option for the families who want it, but do not believe those who responded during the two week April window provide an accurate representation of the actual demand. Furthermore, we do not believe the District went to “extensive effort to ensure” they were addressing the needs of families in the District.
As of the writing of this post, the half-day kindergarten option at Liberty Elementary has only been disseminated to current District employees and families and neither the District nor any news outlets have reported on this story. How will parents whose oldest child will be entering kindergarten next year know this is now an option? Why were the community, parents and staff excluded from the process until AFTER the decision to eliminate half-day kindergarten had been made? Why was interest in half-day not gauged BEFORE deciding to eliminate it and/or during March Kindergarten Registration? How many e-mails, news stories and promotional videos were released when the District approved free full-day kindergarten District-wide and why was equal attention not given to gauge this late interest in half-day? As one of the parents said during oral testimony, “education is a sacred partnership ... that can only happen when everyone has input .... when they clearly understand what the options are and there is flexibility allowed .... honors that trust and seeks to help parents, teachers and students find what is best for their students not just now, but beyond kindergarten”. Isn’t that what this is all about?
WHAT IS BEST FOR STUDENTS NOT JUST NOW, BUT BEYOND