Advocating for all-day kindergarten

AMHERST – Starting full-day kindergarten is the school district’s high­est priority, Principal Gerry St. Amand told the School Board recently.

And to ensure that an all-day kindergarten pro­gram begins next year at Clark-Wilkins Elementary School, he proposed that all costs be covered in the budget so there is no risk that voters will turn it down again.

In March, Amherst vot­ers soundly rejected a $620,000 warrant article that would have paid for support staff, curriculum materials and three more teachers.

St. Amand said he would strive for a zero percent budget increase and implement the new program by shifting staff around. Much of the cur­riculum and professional development work has already been done, he said. Full-day kindergar­ten "fits into our strate­gic plan" and would help all students go into first grade at the same level, St. Amand said. "This is something we should do," he said.

All-day kindergarten would ensure that all students are getting the same educational oppor­tunities, St. Amand said.

"The curriculum and expectations require it," he said. "The rules have changed."

Amherst school offi­cials and teachers main­tain that 5-year-olds need a full day of kindergarten to learn what they need to and have time to explore and enjoy learning.

School Board members, who will be working on next year’s budget over the next few months, told the principal they sup­port his proposal.

At the district’s deliber­ative session in February, board Chairwoman Luci­enne Fouks said all-day kindergarten would boost property values and revi­talize the town by attract­ing young families.

And a longer school day would give the young chil­dren more time to learn what they need to learn, she said, because what is expected of 5-year-olds now is drastically differ­ent from what was expect­ed years ago.

Mont Vernon Village School instituted kinder­garten this school year without asking for voter approval because declin­ing enrollments meant there was sufficient space and staff.

New Hampshire began requiring school districts to offer at least a half-day of kindergarten in 2009.

According to Parent­ing New Hampshire, the trend toward full-day kindergarten began 15 years ago. In the 1999-2000 school year, full-day kin­dergarten was available in seven school districts. By 2013-14, the number had grown to 83 districts.

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