There will no change in the structure of kindergarten in Riverside Elementary School District 96 for now, District 96’s school board president confirmed on Monday.
“Definitely not [in] the next two years,” said Mary Ellen Meindl in an interview with the Landmark.
Many Riverside parents have been concerned since January, when District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson laid out a possible plan to consolidate all of District 96’s kindergarten classes at two schools – Blythe Park School and Hollywood School – as a way of dealing with enrollment growth and the problem of displaced students in the district.
Many parents came to the Oct. 16 meeting of the District 96 Board of Education after hearing rumors that the school board was going to vote on a proposal to create satellite kindergarten centers.
“There was misinformation out there to people that we were voting on something that we were not voting on,” Meindl said.
At the Oct. 16 meeting, Lamberson delivered a presentation that laid out the issues the district faces with rising enrollment and showed how the creation of kindergarten centers could allow more District 96 students to attend the elementary school in their home attendance areas in first through fifth grades.
Under the district’s class-size policy and flexible boundary policy, when enrollment in a class at one school reaches its maximum size, other students in that school’s attendance area in the same grade must go to another district school where the class size limits have not been reached.
“If we didn’t have a class-size policy, we wouldn’t have a flexible enrollment policy,” Lamberson said. “More than 10 percent of our K-5 kids are attending schools outside their attendance area.”
According to Lamberson, 103 students out of 987 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in District 96 attend schools not in their home attendance areas. Seventy-four of the displaced students come from the Ames School attendance area, according to District 96 figures.
Some parents would like their kids to attend the school closest to their home in first through fifth grade.
“The only way to do that is to find seats at Ames School,” Lamberson said.
The purpose of the centralizing kindergarten at Blythe Park and Hollywood would be to open classroom space at Ames and Central schools by eliminating kindergarten at those schools and using the classrooms for other grades.
However, many Ames and Central parents do not want to send their kids to other schools for kindergarten and then have them return to their home school for the rest of elementary school.
“Having a kindergarten center would displace all the kindergartners at Ames and Central,” said Liz Buoscio, a parent of a child who is slated to attend kindergarten at Ames next year. “It’s not only displacing us, it would split siblings.”
Another parent of an anticipated Ames kindergartener, Cristin Evans, said the district should consider changing the attendance boundaries of its elementary schools instead of centralizing kindergarten.
“What I’m asking you to consider today is creating a two-section Blythe Park School and gradually revisiting the boundaries,” Evans said. “This solution will ease the influx of new district students not just now, but 10 or 15 or 20 years from now, when we once again reach the top of the population growth cycle.”
Board member Michael O’Brien also expressed an interest in changing the attendance area boundaries.
Meindl, who said that she expects the board to receive a report from the satellite kindergarten study committee in the next month or two, said that she is open to the idea of changing attendance boundaries.
“That is an option,” Meindl said. “Everything is on the table right now, and the good news is that we have at least two years-plus before we would have to make any changes or decisions, so this is really a long-term process.”
Meindl said she is waiting to get more information before forming an opinion about whether it would be a good idea to create kindergarten centers.
“If the numbers keep growing, we are going to have to figure out what to do,” Meindl said. “I would like to see more data on centralizing kindergarten. … We need to analyze the data and explore all our options and figure out what’s best. I also think we would want our new superintendent involved in this.”
Lamberson is scheduled to retire next year and a new superintendent is expected to begin work in District 96 on July 1, 2013.