Inter-Lakes board hears range of opinions on all-day kindergarten

CENTER HARBOR — At an Inter-Lakes School District forum Tuesday, some parents called for implementing full-day kindergarten in the district's schools, citing education and childcare benefits, while others questioned if such a move was the best way to improve early childhood education and development.
About 25 people showed up to offer opinions and ask questions at an open forum on the idea of all-day kindergarten. The session took place away from the board's regular Meredith meeting place in what board Chairman Richard Hanson said is an ongoing effort to encourage input from residents of the district's three towns.
Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond said all-day kindergarten was a way to enhance education for children at an age when they are naturally curious and therefore benefit from the opportunity to explore subjects in greater depth. But she added that any changes to the kindergarten program had to be flexible enough to meet the needs of individual families. She said that taking a one-size-fits-all approach would be wrong.
Resident Dick Hughes of Center Harbor agreed, saying: "All-day kindergarten is great, but you need to have flexibility."
Currently Inter-Lakes offers half-day kindergarten sessions lasting 2 3/4 hours at Inter-Lakes Elementary School in Meredith, while Sandwich Central School has an extended four-hour program.
Wendy Mills of Meredith said she supports a longer kindergarten program. She noted that her son who is now in first grade has had difficulty adjusting to the longer school day at the same time he is facing more rigorous demands academically.
But Dan Kusch of Sandwich said he worries that all-day kindergarten was an indication of increasing pressure on academics at a younger age. Kusch, who is chairman of the Sandwich Child Center's Board of Directors, said the question of kindergarten education touches on three issues: childhood development, early intervention and child care.
"If we need to look at early intervention and child care then let's look at those issues and not just throw in all-day kindergarten in the hopes that that will correct early intervention and child care problems," he said.
Nancy Fredrickson of Sandwich said she felt the issue of all-day kindergarten was being rushed.
"I think it is premature to try to implement full-day kindergarten for the coming school year," she said.
Ormond said that the School Board has not made any decision one way or the other on kindergarten expansion, but she indicated that school administrators are developing the necessary information for the board to consider when the time comes to make a decision.
School Board member Lisa Merrill said more public input was required.
"I want to hear from parents before we move forward with anything," she said.
Ormond said that a survey would be posted on the School District website and printed in local newspapers. Hanson also urged that surveys be targeted to various groups in the district.
"If we do anything right away," Hanson added, "it will be to give people choices."
Inter-Lakes Curriculum Coordinator Kathleen Hill said that if parents are offered a choice between full- and half-day kindergarten it will be done in a way that parents who choose the half-day option will not be made to feel that they are short-changing their child's education.
The curriculum content for both programs would be the same. The difference would be the all-day program would offer more time for activities, such as art, physical education, and music.
Kusch told the board, "I want to hear ... a clear rationale for whatever options are being offered. 'Kindergarten is good, so more of it is better' is not a rationale," he added.