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Hanover Approves All-Day Kindergarten for Fall 2014 

Hanover — The Hanover School Board has approved full-day kindergarten for fall 2014. In the meantime, the district will develop a Ray School renovation proposal that could include an additional kindergarten classroom.

The board’s unanimous decision this week came after a study committee recommended the full-day kindergarten program to the board in January.

Expanded kindergarten has been under consideration for several years, and in August, the committee comprised of teachers, Ray School administrators and community members was formed with a broad mandate.

“The responsibility of that committee was to look at the best way to approach kindergarten,” Superintendent Frank Bass said in an interview yesterday. “It didn’t matter to me if it was half day, quarter day or a third of a day.”

Ultimately, the committee decided that full-day kindergarten was best for the town, and the School Board agreed, voting to accept the recommendation on Wednesday night. Full-day kindergarten is already offered at Marion Cross, the Norwich elementary school. (Students from the two towns attend the same middle and high schools.)

For six months, the committee reviewed research and took field trips, including to the Yale Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine. Bass said he was sold on full-day kindergarten when he saw how Yale used “creative play” to enhance children’s learning. A half-day schedule, in which students start their day at 8:15 a.m. and end it at 11 a.m., left little time for such activities, Bass said.

Michel Sacerdote, a parent on the kindergarten committee, had two children attend half-day kindergarten at the Ray School and had been pleased by the experience. As she read the research, however, she was struck by how many transitions children go through in a half-day program and the stress it creates for students.

“As good as the Ray School’s program is, it’s quick and they’re always moving on to another activity. This will allow them to have more time,” said Sacerdote, who has volunteered in her children’s kindergarten classes.

Currently, Ray School first-graders and kindergartners are taught in the same classroom in the morning, and in the afternoon, kindergartners are sent home and first-graders continue their day.

There will be seven K-1 teachers next year, but when full-day kindergarten is implemented, Principal Matt Laramie said he expects to divide students into four first grade classes and four kindergarten classes. Depending on enrollment, that could result in an additional teacher being hired for the 2014-15 school year, as well as a need for an additional kindergarten classroom. There are 52 kindergartners this year, and enrollment for next year is projected at 53.

Bass said the annual cost of full-day kindergarten would be contingent on enrollment. If an extra classroom is needed, Bass expects it would cost about $110,000 to $130,000 to pay for an additional teacher, an aide and classroom furnishings. That price does not include the estimated $200,000 it might cost to build the additional classroom.

In addition to the kindergarten committee, the school district formed a building committee to examine the possibility of a renovation to the Ray School. Voters at Town Meeting approved $50,000 to hire architects and engineers to design and analyze the needs of a renovation.

In April, the district hired Banwell Architects, which provided a preliminary cost estimate of nearly $4 million — although that total likely will change before a formal proposal goes before voters. If the district decides an additional kindergarten class is needed, it could tack an additional $200,000 onto the cost of the project.

The renovation could include several building improvements, including new classrooms to replace two portable rooms that have been at the school for about a decade. The district also would like to create an access road to the back of the building for emergency personnel. The roof and heating systems also need to be updated, Laramie said.

Wednesday night at the meeting where all-day kindergarten was approved, Sacerdote voiced concerns over whether the program would hinge on a successful building renovation, which would be contingent on a Town Meeting vote.

It’s a concern that has also been expressed on the School Board. Members have shown interest in including an additional kindergarten classroom in the renovation, but there’s a worry that the space would not be available in time for the 2014-15 school year if voters reject the renovation next year.

“When I started on the committee, I was more neutral,” Sacerdote said. “But now that I’ve been on the committee, I feel more strongly. It would be unfortunate if we think this is the right idea, but then it gets held back because of building construction.”

Laramie assured Sacerdote that full-day kindergarten would start in the fall 2014 regardless of whether the building renovation goes through or not.

Laramie said he’ll develop multiple scenarios to accommodate the kindergarten, including options for if the building renovation is not completed, which could mean adding a portable classroom.

“I think it’s important not to mix the two pieces, but also important to,” Laramie said in an interview after the meeting. “It’s a really difficult balance. I see it as a parallel course and not an intentional course. We’re addressing the building first, and if kindergarten fits into it, so be it.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction appeared in the Saturday, May 18 edition of the Valley News:

Ray School Principal Matt Laramie said the Hanover school might add a portable classroom if proposed renovations are not completed by the time full-day kindergarten is implemented in the 2014-15 school year. A story in yesterday's Valley News was unclear on that point.