Full-Day Kindergarten Weighed in Plainfield

Meriden — Moving to full-day kindergarten has educational benefits and could help boost Plainfield’s sagging enrollment figures, school officials said, but residents still seemed divided on the issue during a public forum Thursday night.

Some young children may not be ready to attend school for a full day, and the anecdotal evidence that it would attract more families to Plainfield was far from certain, according to many who attended Thursday evening’s forum at the Plainfield School.

While there was universal praise for the school’s half-day kindergarten program and its teacher, Mark Woodcock, extending the program to an entire school day was something that many in the audience were not yet ready to embrace.

“I have a concern. I would have to hear more evidence that there is a huge direct correlation between full-day kindergarten and the desireability of people moving to town,” said resident Paul Franklin.

The School Board intends to ask voters in March to approve an article calling for up to $85,000 to establish a full-day program.

It is something that Plainfield school officials have considered for several years, but because of a confluence of factors — declining enrollment, a statewide trend toward full-day kindergarten and competition from surrounding communities, including Lebanon, that have established such programs — school officials are moving this year to seek public approval.

Plainfield principal Ellen Langsner cited research that showed full-day programs boosted academic achievement for children and showed benefits through third grade.

The extra time allows for greater flexibility in programs and offers more opportunities for things like field trips.

In addition, an expanded kindergarten program could be an incentive for families to move to town and address the larger issue of declining enrollments, said School Board Chairman Chris Forman.

The district’s enrollment numbers for K-8 have declined nearly 18 percent since the 2009-10 academic year, and the total is expected to be 216 next fall.

It was time that the district start “playing offense” and do something to bring enrollment back up, he said. Full-day kindergarten is not a panacea to the problem, but it could help.

“If we as a community value having an independent school, then we as a community need to start doing things differently,” Forman said.

It seemed a proposal that many were willing to consider, but few were ready to fully support without more information. Even Woodcock was unsure of where he stood on the issue.

“I’m very nervous about it too,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is for all of you and how the kids will react.”

Thursday’s forum followed a heavily attended budget hearing in which the board outlined a proposal to spend just over $6 million next year. The budget represents a 1.2 percent decrease from the current year, but does not include contracts for teachers and support staff.

Around 40 Plainfield residents listened to the plan. A number of people supported the school board’s proposal and its move to go on the offensive in addressing the pressures on Plainfield taxpayers.

“We need to change the game to one we want to play,” said Lee Lynd.

Still, despite the drop in spending, Eric Brann said officials could cut further.

“I still think there’s some fat that can be trimmed,” Brann said. “I’m truly getting concerned about being able to retire and stay in Plainfield.”

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.