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Evansville ponders starting 4K program

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GINA R. HEINE
January 11, 2011
— The state budget deficit will be the biggest wildcard as the Evansville School District considers starting a 4-year-old kindergarten program, teachers and officials say.

The school board again is looking at the issue after a parent presented a petition with nearly 100 signatures in support of starting a 4K program.


The earliest a program could start would be the 2012-2013 school year, District Administrator Heidi Carvin said. The school board is beginning information gathering.


The board heard background on the issue at its Monday night meeting, and three board members heard from early childhood and kindergarten teachers at a meeting Monday afternoon.


The board will get a financial picture of the issue at its meeting Monday, Jan. 24. The board likely would decide in February whether to create a new committee that would research 4K and make a recommendation in the fall.


"Of course we're like every other districtówe're really concerned about the implications of the state budget on our own budget," Carvin said.


Board member Nancy Hurley requested Monday afternoon's meeting to hear whether teachers feel 4K is needed in Evansville. Teachers shared their experiences of the wide range of skill levels they encounter with each kindergarten class and said they supported a 4K program to help better prepare kids for 5-year-old kindergarten.


A 4K program teaches social skills, appropriate behaviors and independence, and that's often where teachers have to start in regular kindergarten, delaying academic teaching, teachers said.


A 4K program could either be run entirely in the schools, run entirely in local day care centers or have district staff go to local centers, Carvin said. Blending of the three models is possible, and Evansville would be looking at a community-based model, at least in part, she said.


"They (day care centers) have to be enthusiastic partners for this to go forward," she said.


The last time the district explored starting 4K, it failed mainly because of community support, Carvin said. The district had an ad-hoc committee study the issue in 2006, but a lack of strong community support resulted in the board tabling it indefinitely, she said.


A summer school version of 4K started in 2007, running until budget cuts eliminated the program last year, she said.


Parent Amanda Koenecke initiated the new discussion when she presented the board in November with signatures from community members in favor of starting a program. About 85 percent of districts in Wisconsin have 4K, and that growth has caused the curriculum standards for 5-year-old kindergarten to be much higher, Koenecke said, citing her own research.


"Our concern was that Evansville students are starting kindergarten already behind the rest of the state," she said.


Koenecke has two sons who would be eligible for 4K in the next two years, and she would have to transport them to another district for 4K.


She said the lack of a strong preschool program in Evansville makes the issue important.


"It just scares me to think that I'm going to enter my child into kindergarten and he's not going to know what he should know," she said.


She works with him at home, she said, but doesn't always get the same outcomes a teacher would get.



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