Full-time, every day kindergarten: Public forum is slated to discuss topic for Dickinson

The Dickinson Public School District administration is hoping to get a leg up on possibly implementing full-day, every day kindergarten by getting public input on the subject during two forums slated for this week.

The Dickinson Public School District administration is hoping to get a leg up on possibly implementing full-day, every day kindergarten by getting public input on the subject during two forums slated for this week.

"It is just about getting more information to see what the public is thinking now and disseminate our information to them," DPS Superintendent Paul Stremick said.

The administration intends to explain the options available to add the complete kindergarten program, the possible relocation of sixth grade students to P.S. Berg Elementary School, answer questions about this option and ask for input from parents and the community.

The forums are at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27, in the Berg gymnasium, and at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 1, in the Hagen Junior High School multi-purpose room.

At the Feb. 12 Dickinson Public School Board meeting, Stremick and district Business Manager Vince Reep presented four options the district previously worked on. The options were part of a funding priorities list and were in the top ranking category.


The school board narrowed the four options regarding kindergarten to two. All costs associated with the choices are estimated.

The board eliminated buying portable rooms for Dickinson Lincoln and Roosevelt elementary schools, which could cost around $401,000. It also nixed the idea of moving just those schools' sixth grade students to P.S. Berg Elementary School, which would cost around $240,000.

To off-set having full-day, every day kindergarten offered at each elementary school, the board would like to possibly see all sixth graders from each school moved to Berg. This option could cost around $215,000.

The other possibility board members most considered is to move all the sixth graders to Berg and move kindergarten through fifth grade Berg students to the other elementary schools. This option could actually save the district approximately $100,000.

"It is possible there could be other options that will come up at the public forums," Stremick. "The main thing we want to accomplish and that we are definitely interested in is providing full-day, every day kindergarten, but with the buildings structured how they are now, something must change."

There aren't enough classrooms available in each elementary school to have kindergarten in each, he added.

"We could choose to have all the kindergarteners in Berg and leave sixth graders where they are at in their respective schools, which is something proposed in the past," Stremick said. "Or sixth grade could be all together in Berg because they would be together anyway as they moved onto Hagen. If the public changes their minds on those options, that's OK too."

The first time the district had public participation and input on moving to full-time kindergarten was last spring during the semi-annual meetings on strategic planning, Reep said.


"(Former) Superintendent Dean Koppelman and I went to all the (school) buildings discussing these things which are required by the North Dakota Century Code," Reep said. "We had participants fill out surveys about if and when the district added full-day, every day kindergarten. We knew space would be an issue and posed five questions as possibilities at that point."

The response indicated the top choice would be to have kindergarten through fifth grade students at all the elementary schools and relocate grade six to one building, he added.

The second choice was to locate the kindergarten classes at Berg with some of their open classrooms, but most people thought it would be tough to have those younger children at the building like that, Reep said.

"The thought was it would be better for sixth grade to be the ones to move all to one building since they would do that when going to Hagen anyway," Reep said. "We also posed the idea of grouping the school buildings differently, one school is kindergarten through second grades, another is third through fifth grades, etc. which didn't receive as high opinion as relocating the sixth grade."

There isn't a single open classroom at Roosevelt, Lincoln and Jefferson. Heart River Elementary School may have one classroom if things were rearranged, he added.

"When the Legislature added full-day, every day kindergarten (to their funding priorities) and the school board discussed funding priorities we got to where we are today," Reep said. "We're very open still at this point to ideas. There has been no board action on this yet. All of us are interested in finding the best solution to have this be a win-win decision for all students."

Addressing issues

As far as administrators are concerned, funding from the Legislature for full-time kindergarten statewide this year is just the "in" the district needs to get the program going.


"The reason to start the ball rolling now is if this is passed in late April we have a leg up on it and could possibly see about implementing full-day, every day kindergarten for our next school year (2007-2008)," Stremick said. "Nothing is concrete though. The ideal situation would be to have everything in place for next year."

Dickinson parochial schools have a kindergarten program in place now, but neither Stremick nor Reep have discussed the program with anyone there at this time.

Full-day, every day kindergarten began the last year Stremick was superintendent at the Grafton Public School District, where he worked before coming to Dickinson.

"It went over very well there, the public loved it," Stremick said. "I believe full-day, every day kindergarten would give those students a jump start on first grade, making them ready to learn when they enter. Research has said youth learn better with an early start and with the No Child Left Behind Act prompting us to look more at test scores and better preparing students full-day, every day kindergarten is an important part of that."

Full-time kindergarten also is part of the P-16 Task Force's recommendations to the Legislature this year, he added.

"We will present research at the public forums on the effects of full-day, every day kindergarten and the majority of the research is favorable," Stremick. "I know that change comes slowly and there could be some struggles and limitations for parents with transporting more than one child to different schools, but they would have to do that anyway when their child goes to Hagen the next year."

Since Dickinson doesn't offer or fund any in-city transportation for the district, Reep said considerations could be made if parents had their children needing to get to different schools.

"The district could consider kids riding from one school to another. We know there is no quick or easy answer," Reep said. "In terms of other issues that could come up at the forums like taxes, we're hoping the state gives us some funding help in some form and we're being creative in one of our options of adding full-day, every day kindergarten to save patrons money."


Reep said he and administrator Dot Martinson have gathered data from the Devils Lake Public School District which has had full-time kindergarten for the past five years. The two have found positive results from the research, he added.

Declining enrollment and the future

Changes in the future due to declining enrollment in the school district could suggest combining grades sixth through eighth in one school to become a middle school.

Reep does a bulk of the work looking at enrollment numbers, birthrates in Dickinson and the school's census. He could see a middle school as a possibility in the future and is interested in exploring it, but not too quickly.

"Right now numbers wouldn't allow it in Hagen, but because declining enrollment is a problem we have to do something," Stremick said. "We've already had reduction in one section of Berg and pretty soon, probably a year from now; there will be one section of everything. The question is where do you start cutting?"

The option of having only sixth grade at Berg and moving around the other grades to the remaining elementary schools in the district would also benefit any staffing issues of cutting sections. No one would lose a job, but instead would transfer to another grade or position.

"The timing of this is also good. If we do have to downsize, it typically means people lose their jobs. But if we reconfigured for full-day, every day kindergarten that wouldn't have to happen, teachers could just transfer to a different position from teaching first grade to teaching third grade or whatever it may be," Stremick said. "What we need to do is see what the public thinks and if necessary, we may need to have more public meetings or forums before we make any decisions."

No matter what option is chosen, the district has it mapped out so no one loses their job, Reep added.


As kindergarten enrollment started the first week of February, administrators have informed those parents about the possibility of a full-time program.

"We continue to be above what the census and birth rates said we would be in kindergarten registration," Reep said. "My calculated guess would be 175 enrolled for kindergarten next year and the census had indicated 125, so we are ahead of projection, which is exciting for Dickinson."

During pre-registration, administrators have told parents the district is looking at what the Legislature is doing with kindergarten funding, and to still pick an a.m. and p.m. time for their child.

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