District seeks to move mission forward

In late December, the Elk River Area School Board approved a 5.5 hour everyday kindergarten program for all kindergartners beginning in the fall of 2013.

As with many issues entrusted to elected public officials to decide, this was not a simple black and white decision, but one with many factors.  I’d like to share some of those factors that I considered in my vote to implement this program, and also address some of the voiced concerns that have surfaced since the decision.

Jane Bunting, Elk River Area Board chair
Jane Bunting, Elk River Area Board chair

All-day, everyday kindergarten (ADK) surfaced as a priority result from last year’s District Strategic Planning process. Research shows that all-day kindergarten programs are consistently better for kids than half-day programs. Kids get a stronger foundation, socially, emotionally and intellectually on the front end of their K-12 journey.

The clear benefits of the program led to the Board including it in the second levy question last November.  The proposed full-day program was estimated to cost $2 million. In retrospect the second question should not have been bundled with technology, curriculum and additional operating revenues because we cannot now determine which part(s) of the four-part question voters were unwilling to pay for.

I believe ADK will make District 728 a more attractive district in which to enroll a child.  A recent demographic study showed that students were leaving our district for other options that provided ADK.  Offering ADK here provides the potential to generate additional sustaining revenues by attracting students from other districts who do not offer it, as well as retaining more students for their subsequent school-year careers here in ISD 728.  Another major funding source for ADK is $800,000 of new state literacy aid available for the first time this year.  The aid is based on our rate of successful third grade readers; a rate that will increase with ADK.

Constituents have raised some questions about the 5.5 ADK model. While art, music and physical education instruction will not be provided by specialists specifically trained in those areas, our administration is planning with kindergarten teachers to embed art, music and movement into kindergartner’s instructional day.

In addition to our Community Education’s before and after school EdVenture Club, the department has developed a new “K-Club” an after-school, hour-long program specifically for kindergartners immediately following the kindergarten day.

K-Club participants will be able to go home on elementary buses, or stay as late as 6 p.m. for a parent pick-up.  District 728 works very hard to assure the safety of all children, every day, and our staff has successful past experience with safely transporting kindergarten children on secondary school buses.  Thoughtful, caring staff are working on those details right now.

The strategic plan has guided the board to focus on our new strategic priorities.  The plan calls for new ways of operating and new initiatives.  In order to implement any new strategic initiatives without new resources, an ongoing requirement of our system and of our board will be to realign our current resources.  Going forward, I am committed to working with my school board colleagues and our district administration at the hard work of reinventing and creating delivery models to provide high quality, cost efficient learning for all.  We will also continue to fight for equity funding at the Capitol, find new sources of revenue and partnerships, and continue to look for ways to be more efficient and cut costs.

I assure you that my board colleagues and I want only the best for of ALL learners.  I welcome your engagement in the exciting work ahead. — Jane Bunting, Elk River Area School Board chair