BOE Provides Details Of Full-Day Kindergarten

A little over four hours after enrollment for full-day kindergarten was completed and filled for the 2014-15 school year, Board Of Education (BOE) School Superintendent Pedro Garrido publicly announced the district’s plans on implementing full-day kindergarten. The BOE had previously approved full-day kindergarten at the March 18th meeting but no details were given publicly until the April 8th meeting.

“I wouldn’t do anything [nor] make any decisions to that would hurt any student here in Roselle Park. Never would I do that. I’m here because I envisioned that this district has incredible potential to be one the best small secrets that we have in the state of New Jersey,” Mr. Garrido started when he addressed the over 50 people in the audience, “I am committed to the education of your children. I want to make sure you understand that. I’m also committed to literacy, and especially early literacy.”

The superintendent continued to lay out his plan while explaining why he felt the need for full-day kindergarten. He stated that although it is not a formal mandate, school districts are being pressured by the State of New Jersey and the Common Core Standards with new testing and accountability to have full-day kindergarten so that students will be able to master certain required skills by the time they graduate high school. Mr. Garrido said, “What’s happening is, the State has an accountability system, and what they’re saying is if our children do not have the education at the kindergarten level, they will never catch up in the Common Core … The research is very clear that students that experience full-day kindergarten outpace, by a very high percentage, [those in] half-day kindergarten. Not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.”

The Superintendent mentioned that out of the 611 school districts in the state, only 108 of them, including Roselle Park, still only have half-day kindergarten. Additionally, Mr. Garrido said that out of the 23 school districts in Union County, only six (6) out of the 23 do not have a full-day kindergarten program. He acknowledged that the two major factors to full-day kindergarten are funding and space.

Mr. Garrido stated that although a child’s education is more than the results of assessment tests and performance reports, the State identifies progress by both, “That’s the reality of life. It’s unfortunate because there’s so many good things going on in this district but we cannot put them into a Performance Report.”

Acknowledging that there has been a slight decline in Language Arts for the school district, he added, “It’s no fault of our teachers. They are working just as hard. The test has changed [and] now we have new standards. They’re asking more and more of our students.”

It was with a summary of the reasoning that the Superintendent confirmed what had been rumored for weeks, that the three (3) elementary school libraries would be re-purposed as kindergarten classes. He started this portion of his plan by saying, “We have to make some changes. Change is never ever easy.”

Providing various options which included building additional space or keeping both programs, Mr. Garrido stated, “We can’t afford it. We’d have to cut staff. We’d have to cut other programs. We can’t do that.. So what are the other viable options? It hasn’t been easy. We need three classrooms, mind you, to have full-day kindergarten. We have to do something and what I decided would be the best option would be to re-structure our library services.”

Those in attendance respectfully listened as the Superintendent explained that students will still be given an opportunity to access books, but that it will mean expanding classroom libraries, establishing a rotating circulation so students will have access to different books, and looking for space to create a book room.

“We’re not getting rid of any of the books in any of the elementary libraries. Those books are staying in each of the schools,” said Mr. Garrido, explaining that the district will continue to use Destiny, a library management software for schools, which was purchased last year, to monitor circulation and availability of books. Students will also be given more of an opportunity to read in small groups and more time for independent reading. Mr. Garrido remarked that he also met with Susan Calantone, the Director of the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library to discuss possible integration and scheduling of the children’s section for use by the schools.

Mr. Garrido commented about the decision between school libraries and full-day kindergarten, “Library skills have changed over the years. Literacy remains the same. We really don’t have the Dewey Decimal System anymore like we used to.”

The Superintendent’s next topic was funding. He stated that the staff would need to be restructured by removing library positions and replacing them with kindergarten, 2nd grade, or 3rd-grade teachers. There would also be a restructuring of para-professionals where the reduction of some para-professional staff would allow the hiring of another teacher. Mr. Garrido added, “There isn’t too much of a need to have para-professionals for certain students.”

The BOE’s plan is to have two (2) kindergarten classes per school with a maximum of 22 children per class for a total of six kindergarten classes and 132 students. The reason a limit can be placed on class size is that full-day kindergarten is not yet a state mandate. Registration day for full-day kindergarten was held earlier in the day and was filled by the end of the school day.

With having full-day kindergarten approved by the Board and funding already allocated for in the 2014-15 school district budget, Mr. Garrido comments that the rest of the funding needed would be associated with furnishing the classroom and providing resource material as well as training for staff.

In closing, the Superintendent re-iterated the Board’s position, “This is not easy. However, we need to think of the future of the children of Roselle Park. I want to make sure that we have a successful kindergarten experience for our children. We’re not doing anything in addition in our budget to fund our kindergarten classes. It was already built in. It was already there. I want to … reiterate that we are not, in no way, in no shape, cutting the library services. We’re restructuring. Our classroom libraries and book rooms will still be there. Children will have access to reading and book every day. I want to thank you very much for your attention.”

The audience applauded respectfully after the Superintendent finished. It was then that Board President Chris Miller opened up the meeting for the public comment portion.

First to the microphone was Jodie Foy who stated that she is a supporter of full-day kindergarten and congratulated the Board on their decision to move forward with it. She said that her family has seen the benefits of full-day kindergarten but that perhaps the Board could find alternatives to eliminating school libraries. She said, “My [bid] tonight is to urge the Board to re-think the eliminating of the elementary school libraries and to be creative in funding both programs.”

She offered suggestions to see if the Board could investigate combining library rooms and computer rooms to form a media center. She also recommended looking into have mobile libraries, also known as books on wheels. She was concerned with the elimination of library rooms limiting the space needed in individual class libraries for any new or additional books.

Jenny Binaghi-Lichtenwalner, a resident and parent who has a Master’s Degree in Library Science and is the President of Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library Board of Trustees, started out by saying that she initially endorsed full-day kindergarten when it was announced but never imagined that drastic cuts to such an essential program would happen. She stated, “I’m in complete shock to hear this proposal.”

Pointing out that the Borough Public Library is running at a bare-bones level due to the limited funds provided through required funding based on a municipality’s property assessed value, Mrs. Lichtenwalner added that she has not seen any proposal regarding shared use of the library. She then continued, “What is a book room? It’s not a replacement for a librarian. Who will be teaching these students library skills? Librarians and school media specialists are trained to teach library skills.”

She also asked who would be responsible for collection development and maintenance of books that are chosen based on student needs throughout the years and who will teach children how to organize material for research. Adding that the Dewey Decimal System is still active, Ms. Lichtenwalner wanted the Board to know the importance of a librarian beyond books, “Books have changed. I feel that the focus on books is wrong. Books are not important. Information is important and how that information is delivered is important.”

Feeling so strongly about the issue, Mrs. Lichtenwalner said she would send her child to private school if the decision stood as is, concluding, “It’s a terrible, terrible decision.”

Resident Elaine Weaver spoke and agreed on restructuring the computer rooms to create media centers. She said, “I’m very passionate about our library. I do not want to see it go at all. I think there’s another alternative.”

Mrs. Weaver reiterated previous statements by others that a librarian does more than provide books but also give information on how to choose a book and how to use different forms of media.

Terry Sacca, a school nurse at Robert Gordon School, addressed a related issue to use of the borough library by students. She began, “As nurses, it is our job, as well as the district’s, to provide a safe level of nursing care as the students receive in-school as out of school.”

She related to the board that she felt if students were going back and forth to the public library, more nurses would have to leave their buildings. She also stated that there might not be enough AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) available and that medication will have to accompany certain students on library trips. She ended by saying that if there is an emergency in a building when a nurse is at the library, it might cause safety issues as in her case where if there is an emergency at Robert Gordon School or the Academy, “There’s no way I could split myself into three pieces.”

Jean Gregory, who has two children in the school district with one of them entering kindergarten, remarked that – for her – libraries are far more important than any full-day kindergarten. She also asked how many schools that have full-day kindergarten have libraries. She described libraries as “a space where kids amongst their peers learn and research other books, and develop a love for reading.”

Kristen Crawford, another parent of an incoming kindergartener said, “I do commend [the Board] with making the decision to go with the full-day kindergarten… Without a full-day kindergarten, we’d be doing the children of Roselle Park a disservice so I think in that regard it is a great decision. That being said, my child is going into kindergarten. He’s going to go six years of being in school without entering one foot into the school library? I’m not okay with that. I’m really not okay with that.”

She added to the request to have the district look at the spaces in each school to fit kindergarten and libraries.

Andre Cole approached the microphone and related to the Board that there are corporate and other sponsorships that are available to schools to obtain the necessary funds to have libraries.

After residents spoke, BOE President Chris Miller thanked everyone for their input, questions, and recommendations. He added that the decision made was not an easy one but that the statistics in Roselle Park that show the increasing number of families and students who have been classified as economically disadvantaged shows the need to educate as early as possible as many children as possible for their future and the progress of the school district.

BOE member Troy Gerten asked the Superintendent how those in the audience who asked questions and made recommendations would receive responses to their queries. The superintendent, at that time, responded in general terms saying that people’s concerns would be addressed formally. In speaking with Mr. Garrido by phone, the superintendent stated that he is actively speaking with school administrators and staff to see how – if at all – the initial proposal can be adjusted. Once completed, answers will be available for all to see at the district website (link).

In researching for this article, school schedules reveal that students at EJF/Aldene School go to the school library once a week, students from the Robert Gordon School attend library once a week, and Sherman School has library for students twice a week with one class being for a book exchange and the other for library skills instruction.

There will be two public meetings held by the BOE on April 22nd and April 29th. The meeting on the 22nd will be a budget presentation and the 29th will be a scheduled BOE meeting. Both meetings will be at the Roselle Park Middle School and open to the public with time allowed for public comment.