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Full-day K comes one step closer

December 16, 2013

WOONSOCKET — The Woonsocket Education Department just got another allotment of state money to bring back a full-day kindergarten program in September 2014.

The R.I. Department of Education announced Monday it had released $72,928 to the WED under the Full-Day Kindergarten Accessibility Act, passed by the General Assembly in 2012.

“We’re really thrilled RIDE has faith enough that Woonsocket’s leaders will do right by the children of the city,” said Schools Supt. Giovanna Donoyan.

This is the second pot of money for full-day kindergarten in Woonsocket to emerge from the 2012 legislative session. Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, then serving as state representative from the city’s House District 49, brought home a $500,000 grant for full-day kindergarten this summer.

Bolstered by the funding, the School Committee later voted in favor of restoring full-day kindergarten this fall, but they were vetoed by the state-appointed Budget Commission that controls the city’s purse strings.

“The commission didn’t want to go forward,” said Donoyan. “They had lots of questions about the sustainability of the program.”

Baldelli-Hunt was more blunt about what happened to full-day kindergarten this fall. She said the issue became a political football in the heat of an election campaign. As a result, children who could have been attending kindergarten this year are not doing so.
“That is shameful,” she said.

Baldelli-Hunt said full-day kindergarten will not only save the city money by heading off educational remediation problems early, but give parents a financial leg up by short-circuiting personal day care expenses for their children at an earlier age.

Donoyan said she intends to unveil a new plan for resurrecting full-day kindergarten next September. She said she will present the details to the new School Committee before the end of January.

The new School Committee was officially seated by the City Council Monday night for the first time since members were announced two weeks ago. The members are George Lacouture, Susan Pawlina, Daniel Chattman, Jose Rivera and Soren Seale. None has ever served in elective politics – and they aren’t now: They were appointed by Baldelli-Hunt, subject to confirmation by the council, under a new amendment to the City Charter approved by voters in 2012.

Glocester, Cranston and the Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District also received funding to underwrite full-day kindergarten programs under the Full-Day Kindergarten Accessibility Act. The law set aside the funding, but applicants were awarded funding by RIDE on the basis of competitive grant applications.

Cranston received $99,072; EWGR, $45,000; and Glocester, $33,000.
A team from RIDE awarded the funds based on the quality of the plan submitted, existing programming in the district, the capacity to start full-day kindergarten, the qualifications of key personnel, costs and other factors, RIDE said in a statement.

The four districts will use the funds to offset one-time startup costs of full-day kindergarten, including such expenses as facilities upgrades, purchase of books and furniture, and curriculum development.
“The four districts receiving the funds will commit to maintaining the full-day kindergarten programs for at least five school years,” RIDE said.

Twenty-two school districts in the state, plus eight charter public schools and state-operated schools with elementary-school grades, offer universal full-day kindergarten, according to RIDE.
Eight districts offer no full-day kindergarten, including Glocester, and five others, including Woonsocket, offer half-day or some other limited kindergarten program.

“There is a wealth of data about the importance of early educational opportunities such as those provided through full-day kindergarten,” state Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston), a lead sponsor of the Full-Day Kindergarten Accessibility Act, said. “It helps to close achievement gaps and improve academic success throughout students’ schooling.”

Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said she was she was pleased by the quality of the applications for funding from “dedicated educators eager to offer” more hours of instruction to the youngest students.

“As they move to a full-day kindergarten model, I am confident that the teachers and school leaders in these four districts will provide their children with a high-quality kindergarten experience that will get them off to a great start in school,” she said.

Woonsocket has not had a full-day kindergarten program for at least three years, according to Donoyan. She said she expects about 550 children to be enrolled in full-day kindergarten classes next year, however.

Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo

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