By andrei Blakely
ANNAPOLIS-A state school board proposal to mandate full-day kindergarten has school districts puzzling over how to provide classrooms for what amounts to a doubling of students for many schools.
The Maryland Board of Education Wednesday recommended that schools statewide move to full-day kindergarten programs to better prepare students for grade school. The plan needs approval from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and the board plans to ask the Legislature for $20 million a year over the next three years to fund the effort.
The new full-day kindergarten program would mean schools with two half-day kindergarten programs would need space for double the number of students they usually house at one time. Schools with a mix of full- and half-day programs also would need more space.
To perform the transition, elementary school systems would have to evaluate their facilities and decide how their spaces could best be used. Some schools would have to transform existing classrooms into kindergarten space.
Other schools would be forced to use portable classroom trailers or even build additions.
“They are going to have to get creative to do it,” said Neil H. Greenberger, spokesman for the Maryland Board of Education.
The program has excited school officials in many jurisdictions that could not fully start programs because of a lack of funding. Other education officials are concerned their programs could be sacrificed for classroom space.
“I think my first reaction is that full-day kindergarten will strengthen students’ academic levels,” said Mary Gunning, president of the Maryland Head Start Association.
But Head Start programs could be jeopardized, Gunning said, as schools try to accommodate the kindergarteners.
Only 248 of Maryland’s approximately 820 elementary schools offered a form of full-day kindergarten during the 1999-2000 school year.
Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, supports the full-day kindergarten program as a way to better prepare students for entry into first grade.
A state teacher’s union is supportive, too.
“Basically we support programs for students,” said Pat Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. “An all-day program is a better program for students.”
But Foerster cautioned that overcrowded classrooms could result if the change is not done correctly.
“We are going to be advocating that it is done in the proper way.”
Foerster said the transition should be made with a mixture of the right number of students in classrooms, trained teachers and facilities designed for kindergarten students.
Officials in Calvert County, which had instituted full-day kindergarten for 15 students per school, are excited about the board’s proposal. Calvert has been working toward providing countywide full-day kindergarten.
“We are really hopeful because it would help us reach our goals,” said Debbie Harris, the county’s early childhood teacher specialist.
Calvert County is the state’s fastest growing school system, Harris said, and it will need more classrooms soon. She said some schools have already been forced to add mobile classroom units.
Kathleen Blanche, the early childhood instructional specialist for Charles County, said the majority of Charles County schools are over capacity. She said there is also a shortage of certified teachers.
Prince George’s, Garrett and Allegany counties are the three Maryland counties with full-day kindergarten for all students.
Prince George’s County began the program at the beginning of this school year.
To accommodate the change, the Prince George’s County school system moved 46 temporary classroom buildings, some from middle schools, to elementary schools in need of space, said Tony Liberatore, associate school superintendent.
David Lever, Prince George’s County’s capital improvement program officer, said the county spent between $11 million and $12 million to add about 70 classrooms to elementary schools. He said the number of additions was significantly more than the usual four or five each year.
“As a parent I think it is a good thing,” he said. “As an educator I think it is good. As a builder of schools it is difficult.”
Lever said that building new additions complicates how funding is spent on other programs. He said that more money spent on classrooms would take money away from other facilities in the schools.
Should the plan be approved Maryland would join Arkansas, Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia as having mandatory full day kindergarten.
– 30 – CNS-09-01-00