Full-day kindergarten coming to all Renton elementary schools next year

The Renton School District announced that it will provide free, full-day kindergarten next year.

In a public study session, Wednesday night, officials examined how they will implement free, full-day kindergarten next year and what that would look like.

In a round-table study session, with district administration, principals and staff the school board listened to testimony and examined six ideas that would put them closer to making the idea a reality. This new program would be funded as part of the superintendent's proposed budget, which has to be approved by the Renton School Board.

Many of the motivations for having free, full-day kindergarten stem from upcoming educational requirements, like meeting literacy rates in third grade and the Common Core standards that are rolling out in school districts across the country.

"With the Common Core coming we want our students to have an early jump on that learning," said Tammy Campbell, assistant superintendent of learning and teaching.

Campbell also stated that full-day kindergarten would help support the goal of having all third-graders on a third-grade reading level, when they reach that age.

The study session at district headquarters examined why full-day kindergarten should be implemented, which schools would be involved, included principal and teacher feedback, how facilities and transportation would be effected and what professional development for staff might be involved.

Teachers and principals cited an "immediate" and "powerful intervention to address gaps," stronger relationships with students and the rigor of upcoming educational demands as reasons to adopt full-day kindergarten.

"I think it helps with closing the achievement gap," said Zakariya Palsha, Campbell Hill Elementary School principal.

Campbell Hill has full-day kindergarten and Palsha as well as other district staff, who have it at their schools, praised the results they see in their young students.

"I couldn't be more enthused," said Nanci Davis, Sierra Heights Elementary School principal. "I mean it's what we've needed all along. It would put the kids on an equal playing field; they're all going to get the same."

Davis gave testimony about a full-day kindergarten program at her school that's taught by a teacher, who also specializes in teaching English Language Learners.

There was only one audience objection raised by a parent, who wanted to know if rolling out the program next year would be too soon. Richelle Wilkinson addressed the presenters. District staff said that they are just in the planning and feedback stage and would be happy to hear her concerns after the meeting.

Four of the six schools the district has identified have room to implement full-day kindergarten next year. The district is considering opening the program at Benson Hill, Hazelwood, Kennydale, Maplewood Heights, Renton Park and Sierra Heights elementary schools.

"Currently, all 14 elementary schools have at least free half-day kindergarten," said Randy Matheson, district spokesperson, in an email. "Eight schools have free full-day kindergarten for all of their parents paid for by state funding (these schools are determined based on parent income). The remaining six elementary schools offer parent tuition-based full-day kindergarten. The cost is $300 per month for the 10 months of school."

Free, full-day kindergarten is a new program Superintendent Merri Rieger and her staff have put together. It does not require a school board vote if it's to be implemented. The next steps involve more discussion on the school board level, planning and preparing facilities.

To find your child's assigned school, call the district's Student Information Services Office at 425-204-2333.

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