School board members in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 have asked the school’s administration to provide them with some data about the academic effectiveness of full-day kindergarten, but it’s unlikely that any information will lead to the creation of such a program in the near future.
On Dec. 8, the school board briefly heard from Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski about the feasibility of instituting a full-day kindergarten program. But Kuzniewski emphasized that, even if the district thought a program would help with student achievement, creating the program would be impractical at this time.
In an interview with the Landmark on Dec. 15, Kuzniewski said he’s reluctant to spend a lot of time researching the pros and cons of a program that physically isn’t possible at Brook Park School, the district’s K-5 building.
“To do the legwork to understand the academic value of the program is not a good use of resources when the reality of the space issue needs to be resolved first,” said Kuzniewski. “Even if full-day kindergarten were to increase achievement 100 percent, if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.”
Full-day kindergarten has been on the school board’s radar since 2006, the year the district was the beneficiary of a successful tax referendum. Full-day kindergarten was one of the offerings on the table when the referendum was being touted.
Kris Gauger, a District 95 resident with one child at Brook Park and another at S.E. Gross Middle School, was the chairwoman of the referendum campaign committee. She is unhappy that full-day kindergarten has not gained traction since the 2006 vote.
“I want to make sure the board keeps promises it made to the community,” Gauger said. “I made promises to the community on [the board’s] behalf. … The community has committed funds and the community has said over and over that it wants it.
“I want to see the discussion reopened with the community. I want to see these decisions made with community input.”
The school board chose not to move ahead with creating new space for a full-day kindergarten when it completed a major addition to Brook Park School in 2007. The $9.2 million construction project included an addition to the north end of the Brook Park and a significant renovation at S.E. Gross Middle School.
But the district decided to take a pass on a plan to raze a portion of the south end Brook Park and build a new wing that would include kindergarten classrooms or add more classrooms to the north wing addition.
Such a project would have added between $3 million and $4 million to the cost, Kuzniewski said. In addition, Kuzniewski estimated that running such a program on an annual basis would cost the district another $300,000 to $350,000 between staff, supplies and other costs.
And building new classrooms for a full-day program would be have to be done, Kuzniewski.
“The guidelines for kindergarten classrooms are different than regular rooms,” Kuzniewski said. “They have to be larger, and they must have a bathroom inside the classroom.
Those guidelines are recommendations by the Illinois State Board of Education, said Kuzniewski. Brook Park School has two kindergarten classrooms that meet those guidelines.
If the district decided to go with a full-day kindergarten program, Kuzniewski estimated he would need room for between 100 and 120 students, which would require the construction of three more classrooms.
“So the idea that you’re going to manipulate programming [now] to create space doesn’t do us any good, because there’s not space for kindergarten kids without a renovation,” Kuzniewski said.
John LaBarbera, a school board member who also serves as the chairman of the board’s curriculum committee, said he’d like more information on the academic value of full-day kindergarten. If achievement gains can be proven, he said, the board might be able to ask voters to support a referendum for money to make full-day kindergarten possible.
“If studies bear that out and makes sense, then you have information to go to the public with,” LaBarbera said. “If the research bears it out, full-day kindergarten is something we’re going to continue to talk about at the board level.”
Gauger would like the board to act on its discussion.
“The sooner we get kids into the district, the sooner we can get help to them and the better off they’ll be in the long term,” Gauger said.