By Marsha Sutton
The Solana Beach School District’s Board of Education stood firmly behind SBSD superintendent Nancy Lynch and her controversial decision to extend the kindergarten day in the district’s Global Education program next year, by voting to support the change from modified day to full day.
However, because the decision to implement full day was announced after parents had already chosen Global Ed for their children, there were some concessions.
The board voted to offer an optional modified day with its 1:15 p.m. dismissal through the end of December, shifting all students starting in January 2014 to full day and a 3 p.m. dismissal.
Board members also voted to hold a seat open for the 2014-2015 school year for parents who wish to hold their kids back one year.
“Parents who feel their children aren’t ready for the full day can do the modified until winter break,” Lynch said. For parents who feel that still isn’t enough time and want a whole year of modified, their kids can start kindergarten in the program next year.
Lisa Denham, principal of Skyline School in Solana Beach where Global Ed is located, said the board’s compromise was a workable solution.
The vote was four board members in favor and one, board president Rich Leib, opposed. Because of the late notice given to incoming kindergarten families, Leib preferred an optional modified day for the entire 2013-2014 school year rather than half the year.
All five board members, however, supported making the Global Education kindergarten program full day for all students beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.
Discussion on this issue at the May 23 board meeting lasted several hours, with about 100 people in attendance and 16 speakers, 15 of whom spoke in favor of the modified day and one speaker in favor of full day.
David Zito, Solana Beach city council member, said the board should have involved parents in the decision and supported the modified day, saying it allows children “more time to be kids.”
Bobbie Hilton, one of the founders of Global Ed and a retired teacher, said full-day kindergarten is against the principles of Global Education and that the change will negatively impact the reading program.
“I know in my soul that modified day is best for kids,” she said.
Hilton and several other speakers – including Linnea Dayton, one of the parents who started the alternative program 35 years ago – asked the board to postpone the decision for one year, form a task force to study the issue, and then make a decision.
Terry Hendlin, a San Dieguito Union High School District counselor, said the kindergarten program isn’t broken and doesn’t need to be fixed.
SDUHSD biology teacher Ariel Haas, who has an incoming Global Ed kindergartner this fall, also opposed the change to full day, saying unstructured play and down-time are important for young children.
He also said the teachers want to keep modified day and are being ignored. “Why not listen to them?” he said, calling this “shocking” as a teacher.
This was a common theme. Global Ed parents Chris Antonelli and Beth Lee both asked the board to consider the teachers’ opinions.
“We’ve developed trust in the teachers,” Antonelli said. “If teachers said we needed it, we’d do it. But they aren’t saying that.”
“Teachers are not supportive,” said Lee.
Indeed, that seemed to be the case. Tarri Baldwin, president of the Solana Beach Teachers Association and a teacher at Solana Highlands School, addressed the school board at a May 2 special meeting and told trustees that teachers felt they were not given a choice.
In her May 2 speech to the board, Baldwin said the teachers understood that “going to a full day was a ‘non-negotiable’ item.”
Although no teachers spoke to the school board at the April 25 meeting when the issue was first brought before the board, teachers did speak publicly at the May 23 meeting.
Estela Leidy, a Global Education kindergarten teacher, said, “Our opinion as Global Education teachers is that this is an unnecessary change.”
Global Ed teachers Leigh Courtney and Jackie Durward also addressed the school board. Courtney said the teachers unanimously felt that the modified day best serves students and said, “Too little time was allocated to making this decision.” Durward said the modified day is an important aspect of the program.
The final speaker, Christina Singhass, called herself the lone voice in favor of the change.
Singhass, who has an incoming kindergarten student, said many parents support full day but are intimidated to speak out. “A lot of people support this change,” she said.
Social justice issue
Board members apologized for not including parents in the conversation and for the lack of timely communication by springing the decision on incoming families.
“Communication failure was evident in this process,” Leib said. “This was not done in the right manner.”
Some felt the main reason people reacted so strongly against the decision was the administration’s failure to engage teachers and parents in the discussion.
Since the previous board meeting April 25 when trustees got an earful from speakers during public comment about the proposed change, Leib said he toured the program, spoke with the teachers, and called all 27 incoming kindergarten families to discuss the issue.
Leib said about 75 percent supported the change to full day. Seven, however, were passionate and vehemently opposed. Some, he said, opposed the change because the teachers opposed it.
Of the 27, he said 14 children were accepted into the Global Ed program automatically because they had older siblings already enrolled. So only 13 spots were open for lucky lottery winners.
“This is a thoughtful decision we’re trying to make tonight,” said board member Debra Schade, who sympathized with those who said teachers “felt like their professionalism was not respected.”
Acknowledging that “there were some missteps,” Schade nevertheless said, “I don’t believe full day is bad for kids.”
A researcher by profession, Schade said increasing instructional minutes is a benefit, especially for low-income and English learner students. She also found no evidence that a shortened kindergarten day was designed to be an integral part of the Global Education program.
All the district’s kindergarten classes are full day, as is the district’s transitional kindergarten program for 4-year-olds. So the change provides consistency district-wide.
Schade said kids will be getting more of their teachers and more time for school-wide events with the full day, so the decision is not taking anything away but enhancing the learning experience.
Responding to a supporter of modified day who told the board, “You work for us,” Schade said, “I work for the kids.”
By far, the equity issue was the overwhelming factor for board members.
Leib said some people who support modified day told him that families who want full day kindergarten can go to another Solana Beach school. That’s unacceptable, he said.
He said he can’t support a program that restricts access to a certain segment of the population. Everyone, he said, has the right to apply to Global Ed and receive the same educational opportunities as kindergartners at other SBSD schools.
It’s a social justice issue, with legal ramifications if not open to all, he said.
“There are groups of people not opting into the program because the program is modified,” he said after the meeting. Latino families he spoke with said their kids need more English and they want full day. To say they should just go to another school and stay away from this program is discriminatory.
“That’s totally unfair and open to challenge and makes program very vulnerable,” he said.
For disadvantaged or Spanish-speaking kids, “full day makes a difference,” he said. “There is significant improvement for Latino kids in full day.”
Board member Vicki King said equal instruction time for all kids is the main issue, and “I haven’t been able to get past that.”
Board member Jeff Busby said he was concerned about letters from parents saying they support full day but were intimidated about speaking out publicly. “We need to bridge that gap,” he said.
Others also commented on ending divisive feelings.
“Everyone has good intentions,” said board member Julie Union. “I want us to be united.”
“I hope that whatever is decided all will embrace,” King said.
In a statement provided after the meeting, Leib wrote, “Some parents opted not to speak at the meeting because they didn’t think this was the way to introduce themselves to their fellow parents and teachers, given that this was such a contentious issue.”
“I am confident that now that this decision has been made, both sides will work together for the best interest of our kids,” he said.
In an interview after the meeting, Leib said, “The modified-day people feel like they got bullied into this, and the full-day proponents feel bullied into silence.”
Although teachers preferred the modified day, Leib was confident the full day program will be implemented well. “Teachers have always been very supportive of the final decision,” he said.
“It’s a tough issue,” said Leib, but the change to full day is “the right thing to do and it will strengthen the Global program.”
Parents integral to decision
Opponents of full day were polite and resigned.
“It is what it is,” said Ariel Haas. “You share your views and then people are going to make their decision.”
Although he said he’d prefer the modified day, he accepts the half-year compromise.
“It’s sort of an in-between of what we wanted and what we didn’t want,” he said. “We’re very happy with the program. You can’t have everything perfect.”
He said the speeches in favor of maintaining the modified day were powerful and moving. “I thought there’s no way they can’t listen,” he said, of the board. “How do you not listen to the founder who designed the program?”
Haas said he felt the board came into the meeting with their minds already made up. “I feel like the speeches … didn’t really have any effect on them,” he said.
“While I am disappointed in the board’s decision, I hope that the board and the superintendent now understand how integral parents are in the day-to-day operation of the Global Education program and how important it is to include them in decisions regarding the program,” said Sara Appleton-Knapp. “I look forward to working with the board in the future should the need for changes in the Global Education program arise.”
Appleton-Knapp applauded board members for the time they devoted to understanding the issue and said they are to be commended.
Alison Wishard Guerra, mother of an incoming Global kindergarten student, was pleased with the decision to adopt a full-day program.
Wishard Guerra. a researcher and assistant professor in the Education Studies department at the University of California San Diego, works with the Solana Beach Head Start program and low-income dual language learning children and has studied whether full-day kindergarten is in the best interests of children.
“When there is a high-quality kindergarten program with teachers who form trusting relationships with kids and create a language-rich environment, there is no question that a full-day program in this environment is better,” she said in an email.
“Those who argue that parents have a ‘choice’ not to choose Global are discriminating against families who really need full-day instruction. That is not a choice; that is the lack of a choice.”
She said Global Ed should not be available only to parents “who have the means and inclination to pick up their children at 1:15 p.m., to negotiate additional child care arrangements, and to augment their children’s academic learning through out-of-school enrichment activities and structured learning activities in the home.”
Wishard Guerra said the reason there were few public speakers supporting full-day kindergarten was out of fear “that they (we) would be going against the teachers whom a few vocal parents appear to be representing. As an incoming parent the last thing one wants to do is get on the teacher’s bad side or hurt her in any way.”
She said she was impressed the board took time to hear each parent’s voice. “Many districts would never give so much time and attention to carefully listening to oppositions to their decisions,” she said.
“They are wonderful,” said SDBD’s Lynch, of her board. “They absolutely have their focus on the things that are truly important to moving our district forward.”
It was impressive. Five board members stood up for equity and courageously refused to acquiesce to a roomful of eloquent and determined parents and teachers.
And they did it in a way that acknowledged mistakes, begged forgiveness and honored those who disagreed with them. You don’t see that every day.
— Marsha Sutton can be reached at SuttComm@san.rr.com.