Amherst proposes full-day kindergarten

AMHERST – In 1997, Amherst began offering its 5-year-olds a kindergarten program, and now the school district wants to turn the half-day program into a full-day program.

The proposal is for the 2015-16 school year.

At the Amherst School Board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 20, the plan will be proposed as part the district budget, probably in a separate warrant article, said Gerard St. Amand, principal of the Clark-Wilkins School, said in a phone interview.

Full-day kindergarten is considered better for children’s social, emotional and academic well-being.

And each year, he said, between 18 and 24 percent of children of kindergarten age attend other kindergarten programs, some of them full-time programs, and it would benefit the children if they were in the Amherst system from the beginning.

Full-day kindergarten can be a boon to working parents, but taxpayers often balk at the idea of paying for new school programs.

That’s why this is a good time, the principal said, to expand the program, because overall enrollments have been declining and there is more room in the school.

“We have space without additional building,” he said.

There are now 92 children in kindergarten at the Clark School, and the school expects 106 next September. A full-day program would require three additional classrooms and teachers, the principal said.

The board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the Souhegan High School media center, when the first draft of the 2015-16 budget will be presented.

New Hampshire made kindergarten mandatory in 2009, and Milford and Hudson were among the last towns in the United States to start a program.

And though all public school districts must offer kindergarten, attendance is not mandatory in New Hampshire.

On the district’s website, school staff members, families and residents are asked to fill out a survey asking if they support the proposal. The survey closes Sunday, Nov. 16.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@
cabinet.com.