Parent input led to early start of kindergarten plan
At the Whitehall-Coplay School Board meeting Nov. 12, Whitehall-Coplay School District Superintendent Dr. Lori Hackett formally announced the addition of the full-day kindergarten program, which will begin in August 2019. The district had been discussing the option for several years.
Originally, the program was slated to begin August 2021, upon completion of the new building. However, at an open meeting held in February, parents and community members questioned why it couldn’t begin sooner.
“The major reason is that parents would like more instructional time for their kindergartners to better support academic, social and emotional achievement,” Hackett said.
WCSD is one of two districts in Lehigh and Northampton counties to not offer full-day kindergarten, while more than three-quarters of elementary schools across the state and nation participate.
According to the school district, data from 2017-18 shows 31 percent of third-graders are not reading at grade level, which has a major impact on future academic achievement. Full-day kindergarten will provide added instructional time for hands-on activities, as well as early literacy, mathematical, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration skills. In addition, full-day kindergarten will also allow more time for science, social studies, art, music, library, physical education, technology and other important developmental areas.
Full-day kindergarten will encourage families to stay in the school district and lower charter school attendance, an added expense for the district.
The school district contracted with Breslin Ridyard Fadero Architects, a firm that has built and reconstructed many local educational facilities, to develop the new elementary school. A feasibility study determined it was more cost effective to construct a new building rather than to add six additional classrooms to the current Gockley Elementary School, a 40-year-old building. Also, it will reduce money spent on rising energy and maintenance costs.
The current estimate for the cost of the new school is $38,516,236.
“The district will be working to continually review these costs and refine them as we work through the preplanning construction process,” Hackett said.
The extra staff required to operate the full-day kindergarten program will cost approximately $600,000, with $300,000 of that offset by federal funding. The reduction in transportation needs will also help lower costs.
The current site of the district office will be the home of the new school.
“A small portion of Gockley will be renovated to house our district office, and the remainder of the building may be used for future expansion and/or new programming,” Hackett said. “We are still exploring these options.”
The district is expecting a relatively smooth transition to the new program.
“We don’t see many challenges; however, hiring new staff, implementing the all-day schedule, adjusting the curriculum, securing the addition of the portable classrooms and preparing them for instruction are issues that we are currently addressing,” Hackett said.
Community members with comments or questions regarding full-day kindergarten can email firstname.lastname@example.org.