Published Date Written by Roger AmsdenTILTON — Last night's discussion about a full day kindergarten program for the Winnisquam Regional School District came just a day after the school board decided against bringing the $230,000 program before voters for a second time.
But the issue still resonates with Tilton, Northfield and Sanbornton residents, 42 of whom took part in a Lakes Region Listens community conversation last at the Winnisquam Regional Middle School and and whose composition appeared to somewhat approximate the 103-91 split which saw the warrant article defeated at the annual school district meeting last year.
Kindergarten is currently offered as a half-day program in the district, which is what is required by state law. Attendance in not manditory.
The format of the meeting called for small group discussions on the value and cost of full day kindergarten led by trained facilitators and was questioned before the session even got underway by David Court of Northfield, who said he didn't see the need for the complex structure of the meeting or why it was even necessary at all when voters could stand up at the school district meeting and express their own opinions.
''What you're doing is politics,'' said Court, prompting Ed Engler of the Lakes Region Listens Steering Committee to explain that Lakes Region Listens had no stake in the outcome of the full day kindgerarten issue and had simply been asked by the school board to conduct a community discussion on the subject.
A report on the meeting will be presented to the school board at its February 19 meeting and the board had originally indicated it would wait for the report before making a decision on whether to place a warrant article before voters.
Many agreed with Court's assessment that the meeting was not needed, including Gregg Hill of Northfield, who said that he thought there were other priorities that the board should be pursuing.
But Stacey Haggett of Northfield said thay she welcomed the chance to have a conversation about all day kindergarten. She said that as a working mother she feels that two and a half hours a day isn't enough time and that a full day provides not only a stronger academic component but also has value for the social interactions it provides, which are often more important than the the academic skills developed.
Peg Graham of Sanbornton observed that full-day kindergarten isn't for everyone because children develop at different paces. She also questioned the cost to the district, noting that she hadn't had any raises in three years and neither had many other taxpayers.
Christina Bradbury of Northfield, who reported for her group, said that one of the major concerns raised at her table was whether or not parents should ''have some skin in the game'' by paying a fee for full-day kindergarten.
Copies of a Head Start effectiveness study which was recently released and concluded that many of the benefits of early education programs for 3 and 4-year olds were largely lost by the third grade were circulated at at least two of the six discussion tables.
Several of the comments during the wrap-up session reflected material from the Head Start report, which Alan Robichaud, one of the Lakes Region Listens facilitators, noted was based on data from 2002, before the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented.
The Winnisquam Regional School District is one of the few in the Lakes Region which does not have full-day kindergarten. Laconia, Gilford, Franklin, Moultonborough and Holderness all offer full day kindergarten while Plymouth does so by lottery. Belmont offers half-day kindergarten.