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UPSD Considering Universal Full-Day Kindergarten
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Full-day kindergarten in the Upper Perkiomen School District is currently designed to serve the neediest students. Spots are offered to 30 incoming five-year-olds based on a readiness assessment conducted each spring.

            However, the program could be expanded for all students in the district. Earlier this month, the school board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution focused on planning for future implementation of full-day kindergarten.

            If approved, administrators could begin providing daily seven-hour classes for all its students during the 2021-22 school year at Hereford and Marlborough elementary. Dr. Andrea Farina, the district's Assistant Superintendent, anticipates the need for six full-day classrooms at both schools. She said administrators would try to limit each classroom size to between 20 and 25 students.

            "This is a worthy venture," said Farina, who is overseeing the analysis. "We don't want to rush the planning. We need to do it right. No stone will be left unturned."

            Board members approved the exploratory resolution during the Dec. 5 reorganization meeting following a recommendation by the Curriculum & Instruction Committee. According to Member Stephen Cunningham, all of the district's kindergarten teachers expressed their support for the proposal during a November committee meeting.

            Member Keith McCarrick described the possibility of universal full-day kindergarten as necessary during the regular meeting. According to Kerry Drake, district officials broached the issue three or four years ago, and discussions on the committee got more serious over the last few months.

            According to Vice President Mike Elliot, the implementation of a full-day kindergarten would be a win for the district. He wrote in a text message received last month that statistics clearly show the program better prepares children for their futures. The expanded kindergarten would provide good consistency to all the students coming to the district, according to Member Melanie Cunningham.

            "Not every kid can afford nursery school," she wrote in an email message received Dec. 16. "It can't do anything but help our achievement."

            The district currently utilizes five kindergarten classes at Hereford and four at Marlborough. Each building operates two full-day classes, according to Farina. She estimates that the full program would require six classrooms.

            Implementation would more than double the instruction time for students currently in half-day kindergarten, which is 2 ½ hours, according to Farina. She said each child would participate in lunch and recess during the seven-hour day.

            "That additional instruction time is critical for their growth and development," the assistant superintendent said.

            School officials brought up the proposed expansion several times over the last two years, but the idea was scuttled due to a lack of space, according Farina. However, she said the recent completion of the new middle school, and the conversion of the former middle school to a 4th and 5th grade center, freed up the required space at Hereford and Marlborough.

            "I thought this might be the right time to start an exploration," Farina said.

           According to Stephen Cunningham, the timing was right to move forward with an exploration of the proposal. He said increased instruction time for its youngest students would eventually lead to increased academic achievement. However, the board member – who serves on the Curriculum & Instruction Committee with Drake and Judy Maginnis – said he wanted to learn how much the expansion would cost in terms of personnel, busing and curriculum. He also wants to make sure the facilities can handle the transition.

            "I want to see if this makes sense," Stephen Cunningham said in December. "If it doesn't, we're not going to move forward with it. There are so many moving parts."

            The resolution requires Farina to present her plan to the board no later than June 30, identifying the applicable timeframes, fiscal impact and necessary action steps required in order to implement the program. The administrator promised to be forthright with the members, especially for items that include a fiscal obligation.

            "The elements we are exploring are not free," said Farina, referring specifically to personnel, transportation, curriculum and facilities. "I'm going to be transparent with each of the committees about what something might cost. It can't be a secret."





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