Early returns support district’s kindergarten decision

Move to comprehensive, all-day, every-day format allows for consistency, increased learning


Linda Madsen
Guest Columnist

A very nicely written article on our all-day, every-day kindergarten program appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. As the article accurately portrayed, the program – now almost a month into the school year – is starting off on a terrific note.

Having travelled around the district over the past three weeks to visit our many elementary schools, I can tell you that the feedback I have received has been extremely positive and supportive. Parents and teachers alike are grateful that our district made this decision, and the students are responding very well.

Michele Degeest, a kindergarten teacher at Forest View Elementary, had this to say to me about the program:

“It is going fabulously. The kids seem to have gotten the daily routines of school down so quickly. I have taught all-day, every-day kindergarten for many years here in Forest Lake, but it sure is nice, now that all of my colleagues are on the same schedule. We are better able to plan together, better able to compare academic growth, and better able to deal with things like behavior issues. It was more challenging in the past when some kids came every day and some kids came every other day.”

Most parents agree. In fact, I have spoken with several parents who initially were convinced they wanted their children to attend a half-day or every-other day program, but who now are equally convinced that all-day, every-day is a better fit.

It was at about this time last year that the idea of switching from our previous all-day, every-other day program to an all-day, every-day format was first discussed. We spent considerable time weighing the pros and cons of this move, and it involved much debate and consideration. In the end, we made the decision to switch even before we knew for certain that the state legislature would decide to fully fund it starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

Funding is always a critical matter for a school district, and had we known about the legislature’s intent the decision may have been easier. But the consensus among our district administrators, principals and teachers was that all-day, every-day kindergarten was an important step, and if we were going to make this move – regardless of the state’s decision – then there seemed to be no reason to wait, particularly given the fact that moving to all-day, every-day kindergarten is part of our district’s newly-revamped strategic plan.

Two of our district’s most talented and experienced kindergarten teachers were very vocal on this subject and expressed their feelings about the importance of this program.

“I have taught kindergarten in the Forest Lake District since it began,” said Ellen St. Sauver, who teaches at Scandia Elementary. “All-day, every-day kindergarten is the best for the students and the teachers.

“I feel it is very important for children to have consistency in school,” she said. “All-day every-day kindergarten provides it.”

Cindy Solberg, who teaches kindergarten at Columbus Elementary, stressed that the new program allows teachers more time to provide students with a greater breadth of lessons and activities.

“We feel all-day, every-day kindergarten gives all children the gift of time to learn and explore in a more relaxed atmosphere where it can be less rushed, while allowing for more academic and social needs to be met and practiced,” she said.

“Because there is more time in the all-day, every-day kindergarten, children have the opportunity to increase their academic skills without taking away from social and creative activities that are so important to the development of the whole child. It is a ‘win’ because it allows children greater time for learning, working and playing together as well as more individual and small group time with the teacher.”

Of course, this wasn’t just the opinion of a couple of teachers. Research supports the concept that many students greatly benefit from all-day, every-day kindergarten.

The message seemed clear: If it’s valuable and important for students, then it’s valuable and important for all students. And if it’s valuable and important to all students, then there seemed no justification to tell parents of incoming kindergarten students, “we think this is a valuable program, but we’re not going to offer it to your kindergartner. We’re going to wait until next year.”

Students are only kindergartners once. There’s no “next year” for the 5- and 6-year-olds joining our district this year.

As most of you know, all-day, every-day kindergarten is not actually a new program to our district. For many years we have offered the option, but the high cost of running the program required that we charge our parents a fee. We adjusted our fees for families in need, as we do for many optional programs, and reduced tuition was allowed in many cases. So while we were confident that the opportunity for this program was presented in as fair a manner as possible, we still felt there were many students who would benefit from this program who were slipping through the cracks.

I thank all of the parents, teachers and students who have done so much to contribute to the success of this program.

I am confident that our decision was the right one and will help contribute to the future success of our district, for the kindergarten students of today and the ones coming in future years.

Linda Madsen, Ph.D., is superintendent of Forest Lake Area Schools.