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Bethlehem considering district-wide full-day kindergarten

Bethlehem considering full-day kindergarten for all

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Some big changes are in the works for a Lehigh Valley school district.

Administrators with the Bethlehem Area School District would like to see all kindergarten classes go full-day and formally proposed the change Monday night.

Supporters say there are a number of benefits.

Currently the majority of the district's kindergarten classes, about 40, are half-day, which is two hours and 45 minutes.

There are 14 full-day sections for at-risk students who need more help getting ready for first grade.

"I think it's one of the most important educational initiatives in this district for a long time," said Superintendent Joseph Roy.

"We know the primary years, pre-k through third grade, are absolutely critical to getting kids off to a good start and making sure that they're on grade level reading by the end of third grade," said Roy, who added he wants children to be as successful as possible.

Chief Academic Officer Jack Silva presented the plan during a school board Curriculum Committee meeting Monday night.

"It just makes sense," said Michael Faccinetto, school board president. "It is the obvious choice. It should have been done a while ago."

The plan would cost an estimated $900,000 and require 12 to 14 additional teachers, said Roy.

He said some of those positions would be reassigned from other areas and some would likely be new hires.

"We'll also find other savings," he said.

"For example, right now with our half day program we take kids home in the middle of the day and we pick kids up and bring them to school in the middle of the day, kindergartners. We won't be doing that anymore so we'll save $150,000 in transportation. That's worth two teachers."

School board member Basilio Bonilla said kindergarten and early childhood education are important, but he questioned whether the plan is a fiscally responsible choice right now.

Roy told 69 News more is expected of children in the early years of elementary school than in past years.

"Some of that has to do with just the demands of state testing, some of it has to do with the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards, particularly in math," he said.

The school board is expected to vote on the issue January 26. Supporters want the changes in place for next school year.

They'll have to work out details including staffing, curriculum, classroom space, transportation, cafeteria details and technology.

The district is expecting 800 to 900 kindergarten students next year in 16 elementary schools.

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