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Board apologizes for school change

An increase in the number of kindergarten students at Sharpsburg Elementary forced officials to change their all-day program pla

An increase in the number of kindergarten students at Sharpsburg Elementary forced officials to change their all-day program pla

September 06, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

An unanticipated increase in the number of kindergarten students registering at Sharpsburg Elementary School this fall changed plans for some students and their parents and prompted Washington County Board of Education officials to apologize for making a promise they couldn't keep.

Parents of students going into kindergarten were told this summer that Sharpsburg Elementary would have an all-day kindergarten program this school year.

But the increased registration - from 25 children in the spring to 56 by fall - changed that plan, said Patricia Abernethy, deputy schools superintendent.

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"We were premature in our promise of a full-day program," Abernethy said.

To accommodate all kindergarten students, the school has one full-day class and two half-day classes instead of a full-day program for all kindergarten students.

The change in plans was announced at an Aug. 23 kindergarten orientation for parents at the elementary school.

The parents of 25 registered students were notified in late spring that their children would attend all-day kindergarten in the 2002-03 school year, Abernethy said.

By late July, 18 more students had been registered and the school began evaluations to test the incoming students' strengths and weaknesses. Thirty-seven children were then screened by a 17-year teaching veteran who tested their motor and cognitive skills, Abernethy said.

Based on screening performance, "the students who demonstrated need for more practice in essential elements" were placed in the all-day classroom, Abernethy said.

She said the full day will give students who need it more time to grasp the major concepts. She said that more gifted students will not be slighted by the half day because the teachers are trained to challenge them.

"We don't look at a child as half-day or full-day," Abernethy said.

Sharpsburg Elementary has 56 children registered in kindergarten, 20 in full-day and 18 in each of the two half-day classes. Abernethy said screening will be performed for students who were not screened earlier, and they will be placed in appropriate classrooms, even if that means having a child in two half-day classes, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

Abernethy said that no child reaches the same learning peak at the same moment. "We expect over time there will be an equalization," she said.

Some parents expressed concern that their children won't understand why their plans changed.

Vickie Smith, 44, said her son was in day care over the summer with other prospective kindergarten students who were excited about being in class together.

Her son is in the full-day class, but she said she worries about the half-day students who won't get as much class time.

"When they merge next year, some are going to be so far ahead," Smith said. "It's not an equal opportunity for the kids."

Sandy Bowman, 34, said her daughter is in the morning half-day kindergarten class. Bowman said she has a live-in nanny and doesn't need to find day care. But she said she knows parents who were forced to quit jobs because they had lost their day-care slots after pulling their children from their providers when the full-day arrangement for all was announced.

"It didn't affect me. It affected my daughter," she said.

Bowman said she bought a special lunch box and napping mat for her daughter in compliance with a full-day school supplies list sent out earlier in the summer.

"She only gets to go half-day and she doesn't understand it," she said.

Abernethy and the School Board apologized to parents at the board's Tuesday night meeting. Abernethy said the process to resolve the matter is continuing.

She said school officials were trying to accommodate parents affected by the change.

The School Board offered options of either morning or afternoon kindergarten to the parents when normally parents are just given bus routes, Abernethy said. A special day care has been offered by the school for $6 a day, but Abernethy said if that doesn't work for parents they should talk to the principal about other options.

Sharpsburg Elementary School is the only non-Title I School in the county with a full-day kindergarten, she said. Each of the 10 Title I schools in the county has a full-day program.

Title I schools are those with the highest poverty rates and receive additional state and federal funds.

"If we could afford it, we would have all-day kindergarten for all children," Abernethy said. She said that would require an increase of teachers and classrooms at a cost of $1 million over five years.

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