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Pearson getting free, all-day kindergarten
POULSBO — Beginning this fall, Hilder Pearson Elementary School will be the first in the North Kitsap School District to offer a free, all-day kindergarten program.
District administrators who made the decision said Pearson was chosen to receive the program because students at the south end of the district were opting to attend class in the Central Kitsap School District, where free all-day kindergarten already exists in five out of 11 elementary schools, according to its Web site. NKSD expects to be able to better retain the students that live along its southern borders by offering the free program.
“Research indicates that kids who go to kindergarten in one district usually stay with that district,” NKSD spokeswoman Chris Case said.
Administrators expect to bring in extra money along with the extra students that will be returning from the CKSD. The district receives $5,285 from the state for every non-special needs student enrolled in its schools in grades 1-12, according to Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Shawn Woodward.
“Over time, there is a benefit to having more kids in your district. We get revenue from the state,” Woodward said.
Still, Woodward said, the state only pays for students to attend a half day of kindergarten, which amounts to less than the cost of running the all-day program. In addition, the district must pay a teacher for a full day of instruction, rather than a half day, which amounts to about another $30,000, according to Case.
Critics of the decision to offer the free all-day program at Pearson say the district’s money would be better spent at a school where a higher percentage of families have trouble paying for such a program out of pocket. Woodward acknowledged there is often a correlation between financial need and academic need in students, and that both needs can be addressed by offering all-day kindergarten to such students, thus giving them a leg up before starting first grade.
“(The decision) is not based on any educational reasons,” said former school board president Catherine Ahl, who disagreed with the district’s decision to offer the program for free at Pearson.
The most current demographic statistics from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction show that 28.6 percent of students at Pearson qualify for free or reduced meal programs. Breidablik, Gordon and Vinland elementary schools all hover near the 25 percent mark, while 30 percent qualify at Poulsbo Elementary. Wolfle and Suquamish elementary schools have the highest percentage of students on discounted meal programs, with 44 percent and 42.7 percent, respectively.
Woodward also said the district offers at least three full scholarships at each school for students who could benefit from an all-day kindergarten class but may not be able to afford it. He added that the district hopes to expand the free all-day program to other schools when the money for such a venture is available. For now, though, Woodward said the district wants to establish the program in a place that will help it generate revenue and retain students.
“If we can, we would love to have the neediest kids in an all-day program, because it addresses that learning gap,” Woodward said. “If we could offer all-day kindergarten for free, for all kids, we would.”