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Questions Raised Over Aquila Kindergarten Plan

Aquila Elementary's planned all-day kindergarten program for the 2011-2012 school year is ruffling some feathers among the PTO.

“All of a sudden, boom!”

That’s how Chris Clarke, co-chair of the Parent Teacher Organization, described finding out about the district’s plans to provide next year at the school as part of a state-funded pilot program.

“There was no parent questionnaire, nothing sent home with students,” Clarke said. “There was nothing done to gain buy-in from the community.”

Clarke contrasted this announcement with the way the district handled the last round of , saying he and other parents appreciated the district's attempts to consult with parents on other issues.

The questions over the all-day kindergarten plan come as Clarke and about 65 other parents at Aquila are . They first publicly aired their concerns in a lengthy school board meeting Monday night. School administration and the school board have declined comment on the issue, citing data privacy laws that prevent them from publicly discussing personnel matters.

Freida Bailey, the principal at Aquila, acknowledged that the decision to establish an all-day kindergarten program at the school came directly from the school board and superintendent Debra Bowers. However, she said she has been hearing positive things from parents about the idea.

“Parents that I’ve talked to are very excited,” Bailey said. “Teachers are, too."

Contrary to the tone of the initial announcement, parents and teachers will have an opportunity to give input on the program, Bailey said.

“Right now, what we’re doing is having those discussions about how it might work,” Bailey added. "We still need to figure out what (aspects of the program) will look like — the facilities piece, transportation for students.”

It’s that facilities piece that also has Clarke worried.

“Aquila is already pretty jammed,” he said.

Bailey said the all-day kindergarten plan would only require adding one more classroom’s worth of students at the school, for a total of four.

Sandy Salin, the district's director of business services, said a 2009 study commissioned by the district determined that Aquila had space for 625 students, if kindergarten classes were capped at 21 and elementary classes were capped at 26. According to the district's website, Aquila currently has 452 students enrolled. The school had 448 students last year.

"(Our consultants) determined that there was a potential to add capacity at Aquila," Salin wrote in an email.

Rooms currently being used for world language, music and reading programs could be used to ease any crowding resulting from the additional kindergarten class, Salin added, citing Bailey's recommendation.

Even if all goes according to plan and the program is implemented without a hitch, it is not clear how the pilot program would be paid for or expanded after the 2011-2012 school year. One potential source of money could be Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal for state-funded all-day kindergarten at public schools. However, the plan has yet to be taken up by the state legislature as it focuses on cutting the budget.

Despite his complaints, the Aquila PTO co-chair stressed his and other parents’ support for the idea of all-day kindergarten.

“I’m just concerned about the implementation,” Clarke said. “Poor implementation of a great program can do a lot more harm than good.”

Mildred April 12, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Elementary classes are capped at 26? That's interesting because some classes at each elementary (excluding PSI, of course) have 30+ students. More spin from the district.

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