By Alex Lippa
---- — In 2009, New Hampshire became the last state in the nation to mandate public schools offer kindergarten. Now, some districts are taking it a step farther.
Full-day kindergarten is being explored in several districts, but some districts already offer it.
“We believe it’s been a successful program, based on student scores,” Derry superintendent Laura Nelson said. “We believe the students have shown improvement since we started it.”
Derry has offered full-day kindergarten at each of its elementary schools since 2011. Parents pay $3,500 each year to send their kids to school for the entire day.
“We aren’t looking for it to be a money-maker,” Nelson said. “We are just charging enough for it to be self-funded.”
At Timberlane and Hampstead, superintendent Earl Metzler has decided he wants to pursue all-day kindergarten, but officials are still trying to iron out the details.
“We are going to look and see if we are able to budget it,” Metzler said. “If that’s unable to happen, then it will be a fee-based program.”
At Sanborn, they switched to full-time kindergarten districtwide this year.
“We put it in the budget last year, and were able to accommodate it through staffing changes,” superintendent Brian Blake said. “By also cutting out the midday bus routes, money that would have gone for transportation is now going toward our staff.”
Nelson said switching to district-wide full-day kindergarten isn’t being considered right now.
“We are very pleased with being able to provide options for parents,” she said.
Metzler said the reaction he’s gotten from parents has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Lots of young parents are excited about this,” he said. “To be able to have their kids in school all day is a big benefit to them.”
It’s something that could even attract families to a district.
“It’s even been a big selling point with Realtors,” Blake said.
Salem assistant superintendent Maura Palmer said the district is in its fifth year of offering full-day kindergarten, and the demand for it keeps growing.
“We had to add a fourth full-day class this year,” she said.
But not everyone is excited about all-day kindergarten in local districts.
“It’s taking business away from us,” said Rachel Clohisy, owner of Mudpies and Make-Believe Children’s Learning Center in Hampstead. “It’s not just snack and recess time here. I feel we spend more amount of time here doing curriculum.”
Clohisy also questioned the funding of full-day kindergarten.
“Once you implement full-day kindergarten, taxpayers are paying for it forever, whether you have a child in it or not,” she said.
For some districts, the cost is prohibitive. Londonderry superintendent Nate Greenberg said it would just be too expensive.
“We’d be pushing about $480,000 in staffing costs,” he said. “We would have to hire six additional teachers and assistants. We’d have to increase our special education and reading staff. Moose Hill School, which is our standalone kindergarten building, also doesn’t have a cafeteria, so we would have to look at what to do for lunch.”
Greenberg said the district has a partnership with the Londonderry YMCA for a program which complements the kindergarten offered at Moose Hill.
In Windham, it’s primarily a space issue.
“Our focus has been on instructional space for our existing population,” superintendent Winfried Feneberg said. “We just don’t have the space to accommodate it. It hasn’t really reached the point where we have felt the need to address it.”
But Metzler said the value of full-day kindergarten is worth the cost.
“I look at it as an investment in infrastructure,” he said. “We will focus on reading and writing, but we want it to be a cultural experience. We’re even looking at world languages, music and art for the program.”