Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emotional Reasons for FDK

What is a "Cohort group"? The first time I heard this term used at a school board meeting, I had to think about what was being described. In common terms, we're talking about a group of children who move through the school year together- typically a "grade level" at a school.

Recently we've been engaged in a discussion about offering full-day kindergarten at one or more campuses within LASD. At our recent Board Meeting, I spoke about the importance of having a reasonably sized group of students in a grade level and the impact that has on a school. This year, the district experienced a drop in kindergarten enrollment across the entire system, with Gardner Bullis and Covington being the most dramatically impacted. Both schools had comparable numbers of "no-shows" (students who enrolled, but didn't show up for the first day of school). At Covington, we can absorb that change a bit better because of the comparatively large size of the school, but at Gardner it has more of an impact.

A small class group creates some difficult social challenges for the kids. For example, there are roughly 20 boys and 7 girls in the entire sixth grade at GB. With only 7 girls, when there is a conflict between two of the girls, it tends to impact the entire group. Everyone hangs out together, so the conflict ends up affecting all of the girls. With only 20 boys, the question of "who is toughest?" takes on very real meaning, in ways we don't want in our schools. In a larger school, there are more kids, so if two kids aren't getting along, they can find different groups to play with and the impact is minimized.

We knew when we opened GB that the upper-most grades would be single sections, but the expectation is that over time, we'd have at least two sections of each grade. Last year's kindergarten enrollment was fine, but for a variety of reasons, this year's group is smaller than desired. Allowed to continue, this could have negative consequences for the group (more conflict, difficulty in class, etc.)

In looking for a solution, the obvious answer is to address the reason for the attrition in the kindergarten program. From parent surveys, we have found that the single largest factor was the desire to have their children in a full-day program. Thus, the "missing kids" from this year are off at private schools that offer FDK programs.

I'm very pleased to say that we have several proposals for how to address this so that it should not require any additional funding. The two kindergarten teachers, Ms. Lile and Ms. Goines, have both offered to teach full-day kindergarten sections without a classroom aide. This is a tremendous gesture on their part, and they are to be commended for their flexibility and willingness to be such a big part of the solution. However, it probably won't come to that. We've found other funding sources that are specific to this program & location that could cover the costs completely. (If I get requests for details, I'm happy to write it up here. Otherwise, I try to keep these posts from getting to long and boring.)

While I'm thanking people for their support, special thanks to the parents who attended the meeting. You'd be surprised how much that influences the process. Knowing that people care about an issue is a big inspiration for us as a Board. Your voices have been heard!

The net/net of this is that it looks very good for offering a full-day kindergarten option, at least at Gardner Bullis initially. If we decide to do this, we'll be committed to the program on an ongoing basis, and will also examine our ability to roll this out to other campuses after this year. Stay tuned for more details.

PS: Kindergarten info night are being held across the district on January 28th. I am hoping to attend the GB and perhaps the Almond sessions. If you're there, say hello!

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