Despite Minnesota’s move toward free all-day kindergarten next year, some Prior Lake-Savage parents are saying less is more, urging the district to reconsider their decision not to offer a traditional half-day program.
In December, the school board voted not to offer half-day kindergarten because only a few parents had expressed interest in it at meetings and by returning cards sent out by the district, said Jeff Holmberg, Prior Lake-Savage’s assistant superintendent.
Instead, Holmberg said the district is encouraging parents to contact their local school principals to discuss an arrangement that would work for them, including pulling their out children midday.
But for stay-at-home mom Andhra Lehrer and a group called Prior Lake Families for Half-Day Kindergarten, that’s not good enough.
“We’re not happy with that option because we’ll miss out on curriculum, social activities and our kids are kind of like ostracized from the group,” Lehrer said.
Lehrer and two other moms, Bridget Malmberg and Sara Domer, are pushing back against the idea that all-day kindergarten is best for every family. While Lehrer acknowledges that many kids may benefit from additional instructional time, she believes spending time with her 5-year-old is more valuable than a full school day.
“We believe one-on-one with your child is the best way for your child to learn, not one of maybe 24 kids in a classroom,” she said.
The group has met with administrators and a school board member and is seeking other parents who feel the same.
Lehrer’s fifth and youngest child will be in kindergarten next year. She wants to be able to take him to story time at the library, swimming lessons and other daytime activities, along with hanging out at home.
Seven hours at school is too long for a 5-year-old, and her other children did fine attending for a half day, she said.
A numbers game
Lehrer said she has found 15 families that are interested in half-day kindergarten and nine more who are on the fence.
Between 495 and 525 kindergartners are expected to enroll this fall, said school board member Todd Sorensen.
Lehrer believes the district should offer a half-day option if they can find between 17 and 24 kids, enough for one section. Though she’s “fighting an uphill battle,” district officials “seemed open to us if we can come up with the numbers,” she said.
But the district says it needs more students than that to create a sustainable program. “At this point we’re not considering a formal half-day program,” Holmberg said. “Right now, it’s off the table because the board has taken action.”
Holmberg said 60 to 80 students, or three to four sections, are needed to even consider the offering.
That’s because if the half-day option was provided, some families would probably remove students during the year and transition them to all-day kindergarten, Sorensen said.
Sorensen added that in providing funding for all-day kindergarten, the state is saying that they believe it’s the way to go academically, and the board agrees with that assessment.
“There are many districts that aren’t providing any alternatives,” Holmberg added.
Some districts, such as Mounds View, are offering parents the same “opt-out” option as Prior Lake-Savage, but most are no longer considering formal half-day classes because of low interest.
A few smaller districts, such as Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose and New Prague, are considering other arrangements. New Prague will have one class of all-day, every-other-day kindergarten, and Buffalo is still deciding whether to offer a half-day class.
Nearby Aspen Academy, a Savage charter school, is offering one half-day section.
Holmberg said that every district principal is willing to work with families that want their child to attend the full-day program for a half day. “I believe a very comparable experience can be offered,” he said.
While some content will inevitably be missed if a child leaves midday, kindergartners are often pulled out for various things, so it wouldn’t be too disruptive, he said.
Lehrer said she has considered an all-day, Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule for her son, and also thought about home schooling for a year. But she’s not giving up yet.
The group is “going to press really hard” for the half-day option to happen, she said. “And if it doesn’t, I’ll have to decide what to do.”