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South Kitsap schools to launch all-day kindergarten

Half days have long been the standard for kindergartners.

That won’t change for now in the South Kitsap School District, but deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner said Tuesday the plan is to offer an all-day option for kindergartners this fall at Olalla Elementary School.

Wagner said the program stemmed from discussions centered around the school’s low enrollment.

Olalla routinely has the fewest students enrolled in the district — the latest attendance figure is 318 — but Wagner said the district projects the population in that area to grow and does not want to close the school.

Couple that with the desire to add an all-day kindergarten program with sufficient open space at Olalla, and Wagner said starting it there makes sense.

The new program will run concurrent to the regular school day at Olalla, but unlike most public-school classroom settings, there will be a tuition fee.

It is $3,000 for the school year — Wagner said there is a discount of 5 percent for those who pay the entire amount before the academic year begins — and it is $1,500 for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Wagner said SKSD must charge for the program because the state only funds kindergarten teachers at 50 percent. He said the district needs to enroll approximately 14 students who pay the full tuition rate and another six at half-rate to make the program financially viable.

“It’s pretty challenging to offer it for free at this point ... especially when we’re cutting the budget,” Wagner said.

He said the district has set a July 1 deadline to determine if enrollment is sufficient to offer all-day kindergarten.

If not, students and parents who have signed up for the program will be notified that they need to make alternative plans.

Wagner said that as of last week, 14 students were on the roster for all-day kindergarten.

Another consideration is how it will affect enrollment for half-day kindergartners at Olalla. Wagner said he does not want a scenario where there is a full class of all-day kindergartners and only nine in the half-day program.

“We want (Olalla kindergartners) to attend their home school,” he said. “We don’t want to bus them.”

SKSD previously had an all-day kindergarten option at Manchester Elementary a few years ago, but Wagner said that was a multi-age classroom.

The district has different programs at schools throughout the area and some of those, such as the weekly Quest program for gifted students at Hidden Creek Elementary, offer transportation for a student’s regular school.

But Wagner said the district only will bus kindergartners who live in Olalla’s boundaries.

“If they would like to enroll their kids, they will have to provide transportation,” Wagner said. “In many cases, you will get one or two parents commuting to Gig Harbor or Tacoma.”

One challenge for parents might be determining whether the program makes sense for their child.

Wagner said it might not be ideal for some, using youths with fatigue issues as an example of those who could be better served by a traditional kindergarten setting. But he said he believes all-day kindergarten could benefit children.

“There’s a lot of analytical evidence out there that it can make a difference for kids,” said Wagner, citing potential benefits including increased learning time and social interaction.

He said the district has a contract with former teacher Terri Botsford to coordinate the program.

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