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Getting Ready for All-Day Kindergarten

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Politics, Public Insight Network.
May 13, 2013

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The State of Oklahoma requires all schools to provide all-day kindergarten for every student starting next year according to a law passed in 2005

While all-day Kindergarten has support from most educators, one school district chooses to keep a majority of its students in kindergarten for only half a day.

Discovered through our Public Insight Network, Jessie Thompson fixes ravioli for her family while two-year-old Gavin watches the Disney Channel and six-year-old Riley works outside with dad.

Riley attends Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore Public Schools; one of just 22 students at the institution picked to attend all-day Kindergarten.

Jessie loves the fact that Riley was picked in a lottery system to go to school all-day although she raised concerns at first.

“He did the half-day pre-K last year and he had a little bit of a problem adjusting to time away from home, but he’s reading level 2 books now, just about at a second grade level.”

The move to all-day Kindergarten started with the passage of Senate Bill 982, the Achieving Classroom Excellence Act in 2005.

Under the bill signed by then Governor Brad Henry all schools needed to provide all-day kindergarten for their students by 2011.

Lawmakers later pushed it back by two years to the start of the 2013/2014 school year.

A freedom of information request by KOSU to the State Department of Education shows all but 14 of the state’s 520 school districts have 100% of students enrolled in all-day Kindergarten.

Moore Public School, the largest of those out of compliance, holds half-day kindergarten for more than 1,100 of its students

Superintendent Susan Pierce explains as the largest growing district in the state it doesn’t have the space to provide all-day kindergarten for every student

“Right now capacity for full day kindergarten and converting all of our classes to full day prohibit us from having all of our kindergarten classes be converted, but we do have an offering of full day kindergarten.”

But, only for kids like Riley who were picked to be in the full-day classes.

Superintendent Pierce believes the district is staying true to the law as she interprets it.

“That would be a requirement for all schools to have converted all programs to full day when Oklahoma reached the regional funding average or the funding average for our region, our surrounding states.”

The State Department of Education knows about Moore’s decision.

“We understand the Moore Public School is questioning that interpretation of the law. I think that’s well within their local right to do that and we’ll see how that challenge moves through the process.”

Chief of Staff Joel Robison believes lawmakers removed that provision later because it wasn’t feasible.

He says over the summer Regional Accreditation Officers or RAOs will visit Moore to make sure the school follows Department of Education rules and Oklahoma law.

“There will be RAOs discussing this with Moore. I suspect if Moore wants to push this it will end up in court and we’ll let the court decide what the interpretation of that law is.”

While the Department of Education and even Moore Superintendent Pierce recognize the need for all-day kindergarten, not all Oklahomans see its importance.

Rebecca Westbrook Toker taught special education and elementary education in a “home school away from home” in Durant.

She says all-day Kindergarten puts too much stress on the kids.

“I think that the length of the day is way too much for kiddos. They need more sleep than that and they don’t need to be getting out of bed at like 6:00 or 6:30 maybe 7:00 if they’re lucky.”

In a few years, when her son reaches kindergarten age, she will likely not have him participate in all-day classes.

“I have no uncertainty about the idea that I’ll have him in a non-traditional program. I don’t feel that full-day kindergarten is appropriate. I’ll either home school him or have him in a program that’s shorter.”

For Jessie Thompson just finishing up dinner, she hopes that she doesn’t have to go through the lottery system when Gavin hits kindergarten in 2016.

“The fact that we were able to get full day for riley we were really excited and happy and yeah, now that we don’t have to worry about it for Gavin is, yeah, it’s a weight off.”

A bill to make the move to all-day kindergarten optional rather than mandatory died in the legislature this session when it failed to get a hearing in the Senate.

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