The Central Islip school district is planning to restore full-day kindergarten for about 550 youngsters this fall -- a major step toward bringing back services lost during a 2010 economic crunch.
The move will leave only nine of Long Island's 124 districts with majorities of kindergartners enrolled in half-day classes. That includes Huntington, which cut back full-day sessions in 2010, and Elwood, which did so in 2011.
Central Islip's action will include addition of 14 teachers for expanded kindergartens, at a time when many of the Island's districts continue to project staff layoffs.
Local officials credit recent salary concessions by the local teachers union for helping make the full-day classes financially possible. Another major factor is an upcoming $6.7-million infusion of state financial aid.
"We certainly are ecstatic about bringing back full-day kindergarten," said Craig Carr, the district's superintendent, whose plans for the fall also include an ambitious reorganization of schools. "We're going to see greater student achievement."
Revival of extended kindergarten is welcomed by Central Islip parents, many of whom hold multiple jobs and struggle to find adequate child care. The 6,400-student district is one of the Island's most diverse; 68 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunches due to modest family incomes.
Teresa Grabowski, a registered nurse with a son in the local kindergarten and a grandson in prekindergarten, agreed that full-day sessions help parents. More important, she said, is the benefit for 5-year-olds.
"It's not the kindergarten I went to, where all you do is color, socialize and play games," Grabowski said. "Children are learning to read, they're writing. There's a lot more expected of them."
"Full-day kindergarten makes sense," agreed Mike Romano, president of the district's 475-member teacher union.
Central Islip continues to face academic challenges. Teacher layoffs in previous years have resulted in large classes -- the average is 30 students per class. Five of the district's eight schools have been flagged by the state as academically subpar.
Carr said in an interview that class sizes gradually are being reduced. In addition, the superintendent said he expects the coming districtwide reorganization will contribute to higher student test scores.
Under the plan, fifth-grade classes now in an intermediate school will shift to four elementary schools, giving students an extra year in those buildings. In addition, students assigned to two middle schools will have a choice of coursework built partly around either science or the arts.
Carr said the division of students into two distinct groupings, or academies, will give them and their teachers a greater chance to engage in lessons of mutual interest.
"It's more interesting to them, because they've chosen it," the superintendent said.