At a forum held by Wellesley school officials this week, some parents clamored for the district to implement a full-day kindergarten program, citing educational and child care benefits, while others voiced opposition to the tax increase potentially needed to fund it.
District officials said they plan to ask the town for an override of Proposition 2½ to raise taxes in the next fiscal year to pay for the program. If the override succeeds, full-day kindergarten would be introduced next year, although how is still being decided, Superintendent David Lussier said.
Lussier said he will not know how much the program will cost until later this year.
Currently, Wellesley has a hybrid of long days and short days for its kindergartners, sending half of each classroom home twice a week and implementing a half-day for everyone on Wednesdays. The schedule shifts to longer days as the school year continues.
At the public meeting Monday, many parents applauded longer days and more class time. Some parents criticized the current model, saying the erratic scheduling proved too tumultuous.
“My sons thrive on schedule and structure, and the hybrid model is so challenging,” parent Lisa MacArthur said, drawing supportive murmurs. “I am absolutely in favor of a full-day program.”
Many parents supportive of longer days also lamented the cost of afternoon child care and separate schooling. One father said he appreciates more classroom time to the point that he is considering enrolling his children in private schools.
“When I first moved to Wellesley, I was so surprised that there was no full-day kindergarten — we’re letting our kids down by not offering it,” said Martin Bazant, a professor at MIT. “Why should we have to send our kids to private school when we have such an excellent public system?”
Many parents who recently moved to Wellesley said their older children had attended full-day kindergarten in their prior systems, and all of them sang the praises of longer days — as did district officials like Sprague Elementary School principal Stephen Goodwin.
“I am a huge believer in more instructional time,” Goodwin said at the meeting. “It gives teachers more time to do their job, and you will see student-learning increases in Wellesley.”
However, some parents said that full days of kindergarten were not necessary, and they worry the district would waste taxpayer dollars fixing something that is not broken.
“I haven’t heard any problem clearly diagnosed within the hybrid schedule model,” said parent Lisa Collins. “What if you find our kids need not more time in the classroom, but a shift in the way of doing the curriculum? I don’t want to spend very valuable financial resources on something we haven’t measured.”
Local mom Rachael Arauz said she likes the “stay days” in the hybrid model, in which half of the kindergarten classroom has an afternoon with their teacher in a more intimate learning setting.
“I think it’s important to think of quality versus quantity,” Arauz said. “What happens with those stay days is, the classroom environment is half as many students, so it’s a quieter, calmer, less hectic environment to be paying attention to the teacher.”
Some local parents said they still were trying to decide which schedule they liked better. One Wellesley mom who teaches kindergarten in Newton — another district with a hybrid schedule — said she would support longer days only if the arrangement came with teaching assistants for each classroom, which Wellesley officials hope to do as part of the longer-day model.
“Just think about 5-year-olds — they really need that small setting,” said Stephanie Juriansz. “You need two competent adults in the classroom to get what you really can out of it.”
In addition to full-day kindergarten, Lussier said in an interview, he also hopes to introduce language courses for younger students starting next year.
Currently, the district begins language classes at the middle-school level. But Lussier hopes to begin phasing in the courses to elementary schools, eventually teaching new languages at the kindergarten level.
The five-year district plan also envisions a heavier investment in Wellesley educators, funding leadership and professional development plans for teachers and administrators, and encouraging them to collaborate on projects. Officials also hope to instate a mentor program for first-year teachers in the district.
As for the proposal for new taxes, Lussier said he would make sure to bundle all the programs he envisions into one figure.
“We haven’t had an override in Wellesley in a number of years,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a position where we have to keep going back to the town.”