The River Forest Public Schools District 90 school board has shot down a plan to bring all-day kindergarten to the district.
The board opposed the measure by a 6 to 1 vote at Monday's district business meeting, with Liz Fischer casting the lone supporting vote.
All day kindergarten has been on the table since 2010, when then-Supt. Thomas Hagerman and school officials began exploring a range of plans, including extending the current school day, creating a full-day session, or a hybrid plan where students would attend three full days of kindergarten and two extended days.
As of now, all of those options have been scrapped.
In a letter to parents, new Supt. Ed Condon said the cost of launching the program — an estimated $6.2 million for the first eight years, largely for construction and furnishing of new classrooms, and salaries and benefits — could've been absorbed by the district but would require "trade-offs," including cuts to other school programs.
"We came to the conclusion that no, at this juncture, the impact of full-day kindergarten would not be worth the other sacrifices that unquestionably would have to be made to account for the cost," he wrote.
Condon also said the research surrounding the educational benefits of full-day kindergaten programs "is not large," particularly in wealthy, high-performing school districts. Besides, he noted, the district's own studies revealed students who graduated , especially if they attended District 90 kindergarten — fared well academically.
That's similar to the position of board president James Weiss, who said spending $6 million dollars for a sweeping change wouldn't make much sense, not without "data to show that it has a positive impact for kids in our type of community."
"My position looking at it was, if you're going to make this sort of change, this sort of committment, then you should be able to point to some solid data showing why we think it's a good thing," he said. "We just didn't have that."
Here's Condon's letter, reprinted in its entirety:
Dear Community Members,
At tonight’s School Board meeting, I recommended, and the School Board concurred, that District 90 not institute an extended-day kindergarten program at this time. This is one of the most significant issues the Board has addressed recently, so I’d like to share with you some of the thinking that went into the decision.
Any time the District considers such an important subject, we must ask, what is best for our students within the context of available resources? One of the most significant considerations was whether extending the kindergarten day would yield academic benefits for students. The body of research on this question is not a large one, and study groups have tended to have high rates of poverty and/or non-English speakers, making it difficult to extrapolate the results to River Forest. To more accurately evaluate the impact here, administrators examined about five years’ worth of assessment data on District 90 kindergartners, first graders, and eighth graders. We found that when students graduate from Roosevelt Middle School, they leave with a very high level of achievement—particularly if they began attending District schools in kindergarten. While a full-day program undoubtedly would have been an enjoyable experience for our students, we concluded that it would not carry significant academic benefits.
Part of our charge as a District is to manage our fiscal resources responsibly, so another major factor in the decision was cost. Creating a full-day program would require constructing additional classrooms at both elementary schools, a project too extensive to complete during summer break; installing portable classrooms to accommodate students during construction would add several hundred thousand dollars to the expenditures. When we calculated the overall cost of having a full-day kindergarten program, we estimated that constructing additional facilities then implementing and running the program would carry a price tag of more than $6 million for the first eight years.
The District could absorb this expenditure, but it would require trade-offs. What instructional programs or facilities enhancements might we have to forgo either now or in the future if we spent such a large portion of the District budget on full-day kindergarten? Could those trade-offs be justified given our belief that it would have limited academic benefits? We came to the conclusion that no, at this juncture, the impact of full-day kindergarten would not be worth the other sacrifices that unquestionably would have to be made to account for the cost.
Reaching this decision involved a tremendous amount of time and research on the part of the Superintendent’s Leadership Council and the administrative team, particularly Director of Student Services Martha Ryan-Toye and Director of Finance and Facilities Anthony Cozzi. Both the Board and I deeply appreciate the diligence and thoroughness with which administrators and staff members approached the task before them. Because of their efforts, we have been able to examine the issue from every conceivable angle and follow a healthy decision-making process that we believe to be in the best interest of not only the community that supports our schools but also, most importantly, the children who attend them.