Kindergarten schedule to remain the same in Del Mar district

The Del Mar Union School District office.
(Karen Billing)

After weighing input from parents and teachers, the Del Mar Union School District will continue using its current kindergarten schedule. Currently the first six weeks of school are minimum days for kindergarten students—they are out at 12:30 p.m. rather than 2:30 p.m. in order to provide time for teachers to assess their new students.

Last year, Trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick made the request for the district to consider an alternative schedule with full-day kindergarten from the start of school. She believed students could benefit from more valuable time spent in the classroom and, additionally, it could ease the burden for families who require supplemental childcare for those first six weeks.

In October, the district surveyed parents and of 978 responses, 57% of parents preferred the kindergarten schedule to begin with a full day on the first day of school and 43% said they were satisfied with current kindergarten schedule.

At the Feb. 15 board meeting, the board received the input gathered from the kindergarten staff: 100% of teachers strongly recommended keeping the six-week minimum day schedule.

Longtime Del Mar Heights kindergarten teacher Gina Vargus said the first six weeks of school are valued for student assessment as kindergarten is the only grade level where teachers don’t know who the students are, they arrive just a “list of 20 darlings.”

Teachers said that the first six weeks of kindergarten are an emotional time and are more hectic than most grades—they are learning and experiencing so much that is new that first month. The schedule provides a time to adjust as students have meltdowns and accidents, and it gives teachers one-on-one time to build rapport and get to know their individual needs.

“After giving this lots of careful thought … I really think that the program we have is one to be proud of,” Vargus said. “It produces great kids that are ready for first grade.”

Shelley Petersen, assistant superintendent of instruction, said to implement full-day kindergarten from the start of school would require the hiring of about 21 substitute teachers to support student assessment time at a cost of $115,605. Teacher input across all nine schools was that it would have negative impact to have another adult in the room who didn’t know the structure and systems of kindergarten.

Petersen also noted that when gathering parent input, she made a concerted effort to let parents know that childcare is available and free to parents that qualify.

The majority of the board accepted the teachers’ feedback for keeping the start of the school year as is but Fitzpatrick was looking for direction to move forward toward change.

“It’s a slim majority but a majority of parents want full-day kindergarten,” Fitzpatrick said. “How do we come to a middle ground because I think it’s very important that we listen to that parent input and not just shove it aside.”

Trustee Erica Halpern said she was confident that if parents were surveyed knowing that 100% of teachers supported keeping the schedule how it is they would be more in favor of it. She said since the idea was proposed by Fitzpatrick, the board hasn’t received a single email or speaker on this topic: “We haven’t heard a peep about it.”

“I trust the teachers and the professionals, they’ve made it clear the benefits of having it,” President Gee Wah Mok said. “ I think I’m comfortable with where we’re at.”