District 202 administration will present information about the feasibility of implementing full-day kindergarten for all eligible students, and an 8th period to the high school day, at the Board of Education’s January 14, 2019 regular meeting.
Both topics were identified as top district priorities in the 2011 Five Year Strategic Plan. Neither could move forward though because of the logistical and financial challenges caused by District 202’s size.
However, those economic and logistical circumstances may now allow for both goals to move forward.
Interestingly, Illinois does not require kindergarten at all. In fact, state law currently requires districts only to have a half-day kindergarten program if they have a full-day program.
“When the law was written, it was the other way around,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lane Abrell. “No one was thinking about full-day kindergarten. Families were more interested in flexibility. But the world has changed,” he said.
Most families today want a full-day kindergarten program because of the perceived educational benefit, Abrell said.
Several neighboring districts have been able to implement full-day kindergarten programs, Abrell said. The difference is, none of them are as big as District 202.
“Being the fourth or fifth biggest school district in Illinois continues to make it difficult for us to meet some of our goals,” he said.
As a compromise, District 202 implemented a pilot full-day kindergarten program in 2016-17 in which 24 students are chosen in a random, computerized lottery for each of the 17 elementary schools – 408 in all. District staff project about 1,500 students will be eligible for kindergarten next year.
“We had to do the pilot program because we understand people prefer a full-day program, but we simply do not have the physical space in our 17 elementary schools to house 1,500 kindergarteners all day long,” Abrell said.
By far the most practical solution, he said, is to create more space.
Administrators presented preliminary information to the Board of Education’s Finance Committee on December 12, 2018 outlining the possibility of building an 18th elementary school.
The new school would house both regular education and some special education programs that are now spread among the 17 existing elementary schools. That would create enough space for a full-day program in all the elementary schools.
“If we can make it work, this would be the ideal solution for our students, families and taxpayers alike,” Abrell said.
Adding an 8th high school period will allow students more access to higher-end courses and electives.
Now, District 202 students often must take an “early bird” class or come to summer school for classes they cannot get now. Adding an 8th period would also raise the question of whether to increase graduation requirements.
“There is a cost to everything, and I am not sure we can achieve both goals yet,” Abrell said.