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Opinion: Half Day Kindergarten Not An Option

Patch reader shares letter to South Huntington School District regarding budget concerns.

 

Dear South Huntington School Board,

My name is Alison Chiquitucto, I am a resident and a parent of the South Huntington School District. I am writing to you to express my extreme opposition to half day kindergarten. As my husband often works at night, and do not have anyone to watch my children in the evenings, it is difficult for me to attend board meetings. So I am expressing my thoughts and cautions to you in a letter. I am begging you to consider how important full day kindergarten is to the whole district. I am begging you to see that kindergarten in New York State should be a mandated program (especially since kindergarten teachers are mandated to follow all the mandates and the Common Core Learning Standards). I am begging you to not give into Governor Cuomo’s plan to destroy our schools. Taking away full day kindergarten will have a negative and lasting impact on our district for many years to come. The effects of this decision will be felt until these children graduate South Huntington Schools. We are both aware that the price we are saving to cut kindergarten now will be nowhere near the astronomical price it will cost to bring the program back to full day. Half day kindergarten is just not an option. This is a long letter and I would appreciate your patience and your time. You will not be disappointed about what you are about to learn about kindergarten. 

I am a kindergarten teacher in West Babylon, I have been teaching kindergarten for 8 years. Over the past 8 years the standards expected from kindergarteners has changed drastically. When I started 8 years ago, my students had playtime and an art project every day. Those days are gone… 8 years ago I did not teach readers workshop, guided reading or writer’s workshop. Now, my students are learning how to write and read by the end of the year. I am proud to say that my students are up for the task. They are leaving my class at the end of the school year knowing all of their letters, letter sounds, initial consonant sounds, ending sounds, short vowel sounds, long vowel sounds, (even most digraphs & blends), they can write a sentence and a story, and they can read. They know sentences start with a capital letter and end with a period. They know all the letters in the sentence (except for the beginning letter and proper nouns) are lowercase. They know how to leave spaces between words and little spaces between letters in a word. They can use inventive spelling to write about what they love. My students take risks every day with their writing. They can write stories and make list books. My students can draw a picture that will tell you a story- because they have included lots of details (and colors).  My students are learning how to make their writing “extraordinary” by adding “pizzazz” to their pictures. They are being exposed to vocabulary like: content, main idea, details, setting, characters, author, illustrator, organization, structure, punctuation, etc. My students know that when they read, the pictures help them to read the words in the sentence. They know how to find repeating patterns in the sentences throughout the story and use that pattern to read the book independently. My students can read sight words and find sight words in a book. My students know how to find words around the classroom to help them write their own stories. Your South Huntington teachers are doing this, too. Kindergarten is changing every year, every year there are more demands and more mandates- every year there is LESS TIME.  

My experience and personal research into how kindergarteners learn has taught me that children learn how to write before they learn how to read. Children are writers from the day they tell their first story. Children learn how to tell stories, then draw stories with details, and finally they learn how to add letters, words and sentences to their stories. When children understand how to write words and tell stories they become stronger readers. It is easier for a child to sound a word out using the sounds they know, then it is to read a word with rules they do not know. When children are able to explore writing and how to create words, they are making real world connections to words that will never be forgotten. Our kindergartners need time to explore writing.  Children are spending more time playing video games and less time telling stories at home. For some students, most of their oral language skills are developed in the classroom. 

Three years ago, I began writer’s workshop with my students around February or March. Most of my students would write a string of capital letters (no spaces) that did not make sense. The past few years, I began writer’s workshop the first day of school. Today, every student in my class is able to write at least a simple sentence using appropriate punctuation, spacing, capital and lowercase letters, sight words, and inventive spelling and read the sentence they wrote. The demands placed on our students are persistently getting more difficult. I understand that there are districts on Long Island that do have half day kindergarten programs, or even extended day kindergarten. My caution for you would be that those programs have evolved in that manner. Those programs existed as half day when kindergartners were still taking naps and having playtime. Those programs also now have to figure out how to adapt to the new CCLS. You are doing the entire community an extreme disservice by going backwards to half day kindergarten.  It is not possible to take a half a day away from teaching and still be able to meet all the demands the state requires. This year your teachers have been “unpacking” and implementing the “new” New York State Common Core Learning Standards. If you continue with a plan that includes half day kindergarten, your kindergarten teachers are going to be responsible to teach their students how to read, write, learn letters, letter sounds, social studies, science and math  in less than two hours a day. Your current math program, Envisions, is a 60 minute lesson. Your teachers still need to teach reading: with small group guided reading instruction, with students placed in their own appropriately leveled guided reading group (at least 30 minutes a day- I do this for 40 minutes a day); and complete a read aloud lesson (making sure to read 70% nonfiction), ask carefully crafted questions about the story to make sure students are able to find the answers in the text and infer what the author is trying to say and make real world connections (another 20-30 minutes). Your teachers need to teach children to read letters, learn letter sounds, and teach phonemic awareness (30-40 minutes). They need to teach writing (at least 20 -30 minutes), social studies and science each day (another 20-30 minutes- if doing a craft or project you may need 45 minutes). Since gym is mandated, there will be at least 2 days a week the students will lose another 30+ minutes of instruction (and they will need to travel time to and from the classroom). It takes kindergarteners at least 15-20 minutes to all arrive and unpack in the morning, and if you are lucky 20 minutes to pack up at the end of the school day (in the beginning of the school year- this process takes much longer). And all of these things are assuming all kindergarten students are cooperating (there will be no time for crying, melt downs and forget about having any behavior problems). Add on transition time, four and five year olds need time to clean up one activity and move on to another activity. Please don’t forget, the time your teachers will need to assess the students to collect data that will need to drive their instruction. So there will be no time for calendar, morning message (I can’t even begin to tell you how many skills are developed through this activity), playing, singing, character education, socializing, fine motor skills, art, painting, cutting, handwriting, learning how to work as a group, tell stories, sharing their favorite things, listening to more than one story a day, technology, fitness breaks, using their imaginations,  making new friends at recess, exploring their kindergarten classroom through activities like workstations, etc. 

My questions and concerns to the South Huntington School Board: what are you going to do with the kindergartners that are not ready for first grade, academically or socially? Are you going to retain them all? Or will you be promoting them to first grade for that teacher to “deal” with? If you are promoting all the students that are not able to complete the kindergarten curriculum successfully, what services will you be able to provide for them in first grade and beyond (because the gap will only widen)? Is the district ready to have an increase in special education services for the students who are not able to close the gap? Or will you ignore those teacher requests and continue to push under performing students ahead? How will you help the students when they reach third grade and beyond and are not ready for state testing? How are your teachers going to be “highly effective”, under the new APPR process, if they are given students that are not ready for their grade level? How will you keep enrollment in our schools stable, when all the renters move away to a district that has full day kindergarten? 

Thank you very much for listening to my concerns. I would appreciate any answers you have to my questions. I am aware you may not be ready to answer these questions. I would greatly appreciate your thoughtful consideration to the problems half day kindergarten will create. I appreciate the work and the countless hours the South Huntington School Board has dedicated to the community and our budget. I would also like to thank all the amazing teachers of Countrywood Primary School for their dedication, patience and perseverance.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Alison Chiquitucto

Bill L. April 05, 2012 at 01:21 PM
I agree though might I suggest moving these "senior" teachers to the Kindergarten classrooms. I'd bet a week's salary that they'd fly once they realized they'd have 60 student report cards and the daily grind of five year olds who puke,poop,pee and cry.
Jaimie April 05, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Jane- I agree with you that piercing the cap wasn't really considered by the Board for the most part out of fear and I absolutely would have voted yes if since I would have known that the things "saved" by the excess would have been kindergarten and middle school sports. But, the Board mentioned that the increase to the tax levy would have resulted in the tax increase being about 1% more than already on the table (approximately 5.74% if I recall). As much as I hate to admit it, I don't think that would have passed (heck, even one woman who no longer has kids in school said she will vote for the budget every time unless it goes over 5%). Eveyone knows what their own breaking point is in terms of tax increases they can absorb and I think 5% is a line of demarcation for many people. Also, there are a huge number of people out there thinking that their tax increase will only be 2%, which everyone commenting here or has been active in this process nows, but perception is reality here and I am not sure how those people will vote for an increase in the high 4s let alone the 5s. One of the saddest things was when the Board cited the poor voter turnout among the 20 to 40 year olds (they mentioned every age group by the way). That is absolutely something that has to change if the only way to reinstitute these services and keep other off the chopping block in the future is through increased taxes.
Kathy April 05, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Ron...I don't necessarily think that all of the older teachers should go...some of them might be the best ones there, although I do think they make way too much money. But it's not for us to say who should work until what age....as long as they are still doing the best job, they should be there. What needs to go is this seniority thing...we need the best teachers in our schools and that is not always the ones who have been there the longest. But we're right back to the unions that everyone loves so well...if it wasn't for them, we could keep the best teachers and weed out the bad ones like they do in the private sector, which is what makes private school more desireable.
Kathy April 05, 2012 at 02:01 PM
The budget is already adopted by the board...now we just have to vote on it, but it cannot be changed no matter how the union negotiations go. The teacher's union and bus driver's union are still negotiating so no matter what they do, the budget stays the same. And because of the Taylor Law they have absolutely no incentive to give back at this point.
Kathy April 05, 2012 at 02:03 PM
If the teachers are ineffective, you need to put pressure on the school to get rid of them and notify the board as well. It's very very difficult to do, but if they are that bad, there is a way...they need to be pressured to do it though. One was is for everyone to request not to have them teach their kids. That sends a powerful message.
Jaimie April 05, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Kathy- I know that once the budget is voted on by the public it is locked in place but I'm actually a bit unclear if the it can be changed before the vote if a compromise is met- my impression was that anything can happen prior to the vote (not that I am holding my breath in anticipation of an 11th hour change in the next 6 weeks but stranger things have happened).
joey April 05, 2012 at 02:16 PM
I think its a fat chance Jaime that anything changes. we need real changes to the union not a freeze of a year because we will be right back in the same position next year. Remember the union leader had a good sense from his members if a freeze would even be accepted and sadly I don't think so. I believe the teachers knew they couldn't agree to a freeze as a group. Some are looking a the crippled system thinking I need to get everything I can now because in a few years the party is over with their contracts. Makes a lot of sense. Don't think about what has happened in the past because the rules and climate are all different now.
Kathy April 05, 2012 at 02:17 PM
The budget is locked in place when the board adopts it, which was last night. So that's it. Now we vote yes or now on that budget with a 4.74% tax levy increase and deep cuts in services.
Jaimie April 05, 2012 at 02:24 PM
As I said, I'm not holding my breath. But now that a cut to kindergarten is official, the bargaining dynamic changes. Approximaely 20 teachers will lose full-time benefits here, which might be enough to make the union consider different proposals/ideas. At least I can only hope.
Dayna April 05, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I have a current pre-k student in private nursery school. When I asked around about universal pre-k I was told our district didn't have it (and I only asked around b/c my friends in Nassau country have been using it and it's great). So I'm surprised to hear it exists and why I was never able to find information on it. Was the cost of this program ever discussed at any of the meetings? Was there an option to cut it? If Kindergarten isn't mandatory, then I can't see how Pre-K would be. I was at the meeting last night but had missed the earlier ones so this may have been asked. Was looking for info. I am also wondering if the budget does not pass and we go into contingency budget, was it ever mentioned if that would completely eliminate kindergarten as one of the cuts? I have an incoming kindergartener so I'm devasted at what's going on, not only on this grade level but what he will even have offered to him in the future. Forget my little 2 year old, from what I can tell there will be nothing left for him.
Kathy April 05, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Dayna...they never mentioned pre-k...I didn't even know it existed, if I had I would certainly have brought it up. I assume maybe they get reimbursed for it from the feds or something, so maybe it doesn't cost them anything??? I don't think they can cut kindergarten because while it is not mandated, I think it is mandated for them to provide education for kids starting at age 5. If the budget is defeated, I think the state will step in with more funds. I have no knowledge of this, I just see how Albany is operating and they know some districts will fail. As long as they try to pass a budget that stays below the 2% cap, I think Albany will step in with more aid if the budget fails twice. Which is fine with me, I'd rather get the money from Albany (which came from us anyway) than from the taxpayers again.
joey April 05, 2012 at 03:05 PM
True Jaime it gives leverage to the BOE when 20 teachers are cut. I can only hope that the union leader and members realize the consequences and make real change not just a freeze. The Admins staff being over bloated is another area and one that can only change is we vote no. otherwise they continue to get fat salaries and won't reduce any staff.
Janet April 05, 2012 at 08:05 PM
If the budget is already adopted why do they have a public hearing on it? What will that get us? Middle school sports are almost more important than JV or Varsity...at middle school age..kids don't know what to do with themselves necessarily and need to be involved with something...hopefully they will join intermurals. Maybe the intermural program can work with the high school students as mentors or coaches or something..which would benefit both. Or maybe those students that aren't involved in sports can now watch the students not in full-day Kindergarten...
Jane April 05, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Fact: the only penalty for piercing the tax cap is that you need 61% of the voters to pass the budget instead of 50%. It is not, as the board implied, against any law to price the tax cap. Joey, I am interested in reading about the teachers refusing to take a pay freeze, could you please let me know where you got that information from.
joey April 05, 2012 at 08:48 PM
All I can say is last night at the board meeting...true the law states a majority of more then 60% but I still wonder if the State passed this 2% cap and individual school districts go against that will this jeopardize state aid going forward. Don't think that can't happen. The BOE stated a few times that they met with local legislatures recently. I think there is a lot more behind the scenes we just don't know and that impacts the decisions being made.
Marie April 06, 2012 at 01:17 PM
The board did not say it was against any law. The board pointed out the 70% of the residents do not have children in the school (higher than I expected). It stands to reason that if these voters all turned out they may not be empathetic about what is being cut. Rather they may be upset about any tax increase of more than 2%. Many of the 70% may vote no without realizing the impact to the community. Reading the comments on the patch and seeing the comments on the virtual chats with our legislators there are many people who are solely concerned with saving $300 in their tax bill and are not overly concerned about the devastating impact of education cuts ten or twenty years down the road.
Pam Robinson (Editor) April 06, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Dayna, the school administration will have an outline of what the 1/2 day kindergarten will look like well before the budget vote.
kim April 06, 2012 at 04:07 PM
WELCOME TO THE DUMMING OF AMERICA. I have a child in "school", a full time daycare with a curriculum to prepare him for kindergarten. Now my district with its over blown taxes plans to go to 1/2 day kindergarten? WTH? I have cut my salary in half to ensure my child is prepared for kindergarten. My husband & I both work full time to afford the luxury (lol) of living in the S Huntington school district yet, all I ever see is more children getting on the buses w/ less service for my hard earned tax dollar. Why is this? This town is more screwed up than I estimated when we moved here in 2009. Are there other options for full time kindergarten? Is there a private school? Because part time K plus after care will cost the same and cause a disruption in everyone's day. We’re already broke from daycare so why not another year? Will the town cut my school taxes bcz I have to locate after care or a private option? It is insane. Cut education - no one will know? We are failing as a country because our children just can’t compete, somehow cutting education sounds like the wise choice? What is wrong with us? Greed? In ability to compromise? SH school district is not the cream of the crop, the last thing we need to do help drop our students down a few more pegs. My son has been in a full time situation since he was 3 months, to go to 1/2 time kindergarten and expect him to be prepared for 1st gr doesnt add up! My district is failing my son. Time to get the heck out of Dodge!
Dayna April 06, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Unlisted - I directly asked this question to the asst principal at Oakwood. I was told that there was little to no impact on our district when Hunt cut last year. Whether that is the truth or not who can be sure. What I know is that the SH budget states that the free and reduced price lunch program rose 10% from 2007 to 2011 so that alone tells you that regardless of whether or not we've gotten a few from Hunt district there is a much larger problem there.
Dayna April 06, 2012 at 04:19 PM
M- I fortunately can afford private school and enrichment programs and also only work part time so I can be there for my kids. So should I just keep paying more out of pocket on top of increasing my taxes too? At some point we all get fed up and something's got to give. And as a resident of the district with a child entering kindergarten and another 3 years behind I'm very sad to see the state of the district. We just can't keep paying more taxes for less service and also be expected to keep being the ones to pay for everything else on top of it as well. It's all just sad.
joey April 06, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Very true Dayna...very true. The few that can afford it should not be the one's to continue supporting the abuse by the school taxes...We are getting to the point that we are breaking on how much more we can take. At this rate my taxes are close to CSH range and my house is not valued near there's... Something has to give.
Kathy April 06, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Kim...is it really more important to live on Long Island than to spend time raising your child yourself? This is what is wrong with society today...our kids are being raised by schools. WTH
Kathy April 06, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Dayna...I don't remember where I saw this, but it must have been during one of the presentations...they showed the class sizes for each grade and there was a 200 student increase from the prior year in kindergarten when Huntington went to 1/2 day . If anyone remembers where this info was or has any more details, please post.
Dayna April 06, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Kathy - that's interesting. Assuming it was 200 students districtwide? I asked specifically about the kindergarten at Oakwood. I had heard from a parent at Countrywood that they saw an increase in the number of kindergarten classes they had for the year. It will be interesting to see if there is any difference next year if we go to 1/2 day.
Dayna April 06, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Mahasset is also 1/2 day. Not that knowing any of this makes me feel any better :)
Kathy April 06, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Dayna...not districtwide...just an increase in incoming kindergarten students, presumably from Huntington when they went 1/2 day. It will be interesting to see if we get a drop now.
Dayna April 06, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Thanks Kathy, so they basically lied straight to my face. As I was told it was not a significant effect on the kindergarten. I would love that slide or info if anyone has it.
Jaimie April 06, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Countrywood definitely added 2 or 3 classes a few weeks/months after the start of the year- not sure if Oakwood saw the same spike. I assumed it was the 1/2 day-full-day difference and am curious if the we see a decrease in enrollment in the 1st grade (as well as kindergarten when next year's class size is compared to this year's).
joey April 06, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Jaimie - Oakwood didn't see the spike that Countrywood did for this years kindergarten. It was noticeable especially the Dual language kids enrolled. That nearly doubled from the previous class year. I know moms from the Countrywood school asked the BOE and they didn't see any major reason why just asked to tell them if you don't think a child belongs to the district. I as well think the enrollment for this years kindergarten will decrease as parents find out that maybe the school program is not as good as keeping a child in another beneficial program outside the school. Interesting question on the current kindergarten enrollment for next year's 1st grade. What I also found interesting is my son's grade which is huge was not showing the correct number on the District presentation so not sure I believe any numbers the district puts out.
Jane April 16, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Aw, Joey, I am disappointed that you were not able to give me any info on the teachers pay freeze. I am a teacher in another district. When teachers have an open contract they can not negotiate a pay freeze without settling the contract with the school board. The school board and the teachers union have to come together to agree to a contract. I heard the union president tell the public all of the many cuts they were willing to offer up to the school board. Its up to the school board to accept the what the teachers have offered. However, the public is not privileged to that information, until both parties have settled on a contract. Saying that the teachers are refusing a pay freeze is not really an acceptable rumor to start, unless you are privileged to the contract negotiations (but then that would be illegal for you to give that kind of information out).

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