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Harborfields school district considers full-day kindergarten

Four of the women urging the Harborfields school

Four of the women urging the Harborfields school district to offer full-time kindergarten met on Jan. 20, 2016. They are, from left, Jennifer Rogdakis, 35; Rachael Risinger, 37; Jenny Post, 33; and Natalie Mason, 36. Credit: James Carbone

Harborfields school district is the last on Long Island with half-day kindergarten, but a move is underway for full-day classes.

After a group of parents pushed instituting a full-day program, officials created the Full-Day Kindergarten Committee in June to explore the idea and in January presented its findings to a packed forum.

“Full-day kindergarten is like giving children a fair start in their education,” said Rachael Risinger, the mother of two young children who will go through the district. “It’s putting them on an even playing field from the get-go. School curriculum is a lot more demanding of kids than it used to be.”

Harborfields is one of nine districts in the state with half-day kindergarten. There are about 700 school districts in New York State, 124 of them on Long Island.

District Superintendent Diana Todaro said that based on what the committee determined, the addition of a full-day program would enhance opportunities for the district’s early-childhood students.

“The significant challenge is to develop a budget that is able to sustain all the wonderful programs and also add in programs, if possible,” Todaro said. “Full-day kindergarten is absolutely a program that would benefit our early-childhood learners, but the challenge that confronts us is how do we fund it?”

Todaro said the district has seriously considered instituting full-day kindergarten twice in the past 14 years or so, examining the financial impact as well as its students’ performance in elementary school compared with students in districts with full-day kindergarten.

District officials found that by the time its students reached third grade, they were performing as well as students who attended full-day kindergarten, so they declined to create a program.

Dana Friedman, former president of the Port Washington-based Early Years Institute, said the district’s findings on the third-grade performance are no surprise.

“Parents in affluent neighborhoods are able to provide their children with much more than middle- and lower-income children might get,” Friedman said. “In that district I would not be surprised that these children performed as well; they are getting rich experiences during the other half of the day.”

Nonetheless, full-day kindergarten offers a different tangible benefit, she said.

“What all children benefit from is social and emotional development and resilience,” Friedman said.

“Being with other kids, learning how to get along, playing in groups, working in teams — which is the direction companies are going — this is all happening in group experiences,” Friedman said. “The social emotional development that comes from those group experiences is what children benefit from, and your third-grade reading and math scores are not measuring that.”

A review of the financial impact of full-day kindergarten is planned for the Feb. 10 regular school board meeting, Todaro said.

A rough estimate of how much it would cost the district to institute a full-day program is $500,000 annually for the next two years when factoring in state aid, district officials said. After that, it would cost the district $700,000 annually for the next two years.

In December, Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington) said he will co-sponsor legislation that would provide aid for school districts that convert to full-day kindergarten programs.

Todaro said her office will give the school board its recommendation on full-day kindergarten, and the board then would probably make its decision in April.

“It’s a program cost, not just a one-time expense,” said Francesco Ianni, assistant superintendent for administration and human resources. “We want to make sure that when the superintendent recommends the most effective budget, we’ve taken into account all the different variables, and we want to have a program that we will be able to sustain over the years.”


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