EDUCATION MATTERS: School board candidates answer questions


By Marsha Sutton


As predicted, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, also known as Senate Bill 1381, which will require children to be 5 years old by Sept. 1 to enter kindergarten.

Current law requires children to turn 5 by Dec. 2. The Kindergarten Readiness Act will move the date back one month, beginning in the year 2012, when the cutoff date will be Nov. 1. In 2013, it will be Oct. 1, and in 2014 the cutoff date will be Sept. 1where it will remain.

There is widespread support for SB-1381. Reasons generally center around increased demands for academic performance by younger students and the need for children to be better prepared for more accelerated classroom activities than the traditional kindergarten of years past.

“Today’s kindergarten classroom is a much different place than most of us experienced,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, the bill’s sponsor, in a press release.

Because of these rising expectations on kindergartners, many school districts have shifted over the years from half-day to full-day kindergarten.

Yet the Del Mar Union School District has maintained its half-day program in the face of the trend toward full day, although the DMUSD does offer a unique and well-liked pullout program of small group instruction once a week for its youngest students.

Since this issue has received some attention in the past few years, the five candidates for the Del Mar Union School District’s Board of Education were asked to provide their thoughts on the subject. Following are their responses.

Kristin Gibson:

I’m aware some studies connect full day kindergarten to higher achievement, but there’s no conclusive research indicating it’s the best option in every situation. It depends on what children do during the school day, what they do after school, and on the needs, resources and abilities of parents. Kindergarten is more academically demanding than in the past and we need to consider what’s developmentally appropriate. I do not believe full day kindergarten is currently necessary for our children. However, I realize respected educators feel differently about the subject, so I intend on keeping an open mind.

Jason Maletic:

I think full day kindergarten is a great idea. Studies show that students in full day programs show greater progress in math, reading and social skills. This would also allow students to interact with one another for longer periods and more time to work on creative projects. However, if this is fiscally possible is another matter. If I am elected and had a chance to be on “the inside looking out” I would have access to information to help the board decide if this is a possibility.

Steven McDowell:

Previously, the board heard strong arguments from parents and staff that felt our students were best served by having a shorter day since it allowed parents to spend extra time with their kindergartner while the rest of their kids were still in school. Staff and parents also indicated students benefit from the smaller group extended day sessions. It was also noted if kindergarten was extended to a full day, the district would have to provide additional enrichment support for the 120 minutes of prep time included in the union contract. Based on the above input from our community and the staff, the board has supported the shorter day. The board also indicated it was a subject that will need to be brought up again.

With the signing by the governor of SB-1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, and the continually increasing academic demand placed on our younger students, the need for full day kindergarten is more apparent. The implementation of SB-1381 will result in a small drop-off of students that could have been placed in kindergarten that will now come in a year later. If the district was to provide full day kindergarten in 2011-2012, it is possible the need for prep time support could come from current staff.

While staff’s input and the community input may different on the pros and cons, I do see the need for full day kindergarten to come up to the board for a vote, especially given the arguments to have full day kindergarten are stronger today than two years ago.

Doug Rafner:

Full day kindergarten vs. half day kindergarten has been researched across the country for more than 10 years. The findings of those studies have not been conclusive, although there has been a finding that children who have not attended pre-school before kindergarten benefit from full day kindergarten. This finding has been the foundation of arguments locally that most children in our schools attend some form of pre-school before kindergarten, thus there is no need for full day kindergarten. However, the years of studies do not show a detriment to those who attended pre-school, and then attended full day kindergarten.

In our district, the kindergarten teachers work with a number of small reading groups in the afternoons. API scores have been consistently high, but what does this mean with regard to kindergarten? Would they be higher if kindergarten were full day? Our district has wonderful professionals who have significant experience evaluating these types of studies. Parents also have opinions on the issue. Thus, in making any decision, the professionals and communities would have to be consulted allowing for informed decision-making.

Scott Wooden:

I will not make any curriculum changes without questions and input from teachers, the superintendent, staff, parents and from members on other school boards to understand best practices. Keeping student/staff ratios low has the largest impact in kindergarten teaching. On the particular subject of full-day, it amounts to adding seven hours a week, but losing the extended small group sessions. This small group concentrated instruction time is invaluable as it allows for more individualized attention with students grouped to their abilities. It enables high-performing students to fly, confident middle students to go into further depth, and the struggling learners to get the direction they need, allowing all to succeed as they reach first grade and beyond.

Obviously our current program is working well with API scores being high. There is also only so much that a kindergartner can learn in a day. Many times curriculum gets stretched to cover additional hours by building more activity time into the schedule. This is a complex issue with strong beliefs on both sides of the equation. It boils down to what best meets the needs of the children. That is what would ultimately drive my decision.

The Obama speech

President Barack Obama gave a speech to schoolchildren on Sept. 14 that was televised live. The decision by DMUSD superintendent James Peabody not to have the speech shown in the district’s schools generated a great deal of controversy in the community.

Related questions posed to the five candidates were the following: Were you in favor or opposed to airing the speech live, in schools? Should parents have the right to opt their children out of watching? How should this situation have been handled by the school district?

Kristin Gibson:

Whether you approve or disapprove of a president, it’s patriotic and proper to respect the office. As in 2009, President Obama gave a non-partisan speech intended to inspire children. Students regularly view assemblies and films at school without parental notification. They have access to political speeches of the past. I understand the district had limited time to make a decision and was likely concerned about parents who must have opposed the speech last year. In the future, however, I would like the speech aired. If policy allows, parents in disagreement could opt their children out of watching.

Jason Maletic:

I am definitely in favor of the speech airing live in schools. I also think that parents should have the right to opt their child out if they wish. The district should have had the foresight to be aware of these types of historic events. The district could have simply notified parents via email or other means that the broadcast would be shown.

Steven McDowell:

It is important for our district to be prepared to provide students the opportunity to hear a live speech by the President and for teachers to have guidance to help them determine if it fits within their curriculum for discussion with their students. Parents also have the right to be aware of what live broadcast and video will be shown to their children and to have the opportunity to withdraw if they find it inappropriate. Since September 14, the speech has been made available on the district website for parents to view with their children, and the district is looking into incorporating the speech into classroom discussions in February as part of President’s week.

Doug Rafner:

The controversy over the president’s speech brings to mind the oft quoted, “I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” These precepts should be the basis of our country and our community. Many agree and many disagree with the positions taken by the current presidential administration. This fact is irrelevant, because no one can disagree with the dignity the office of the President of the United States commands and deserves. When the President wishes to speak to our children about the importance of staying in school, there should be no politicizing. Allowing this issue to become a political firestorm teaches the wrong lesson to our children. Irrespective of any agreement or disagreement with the messenger’s politics, it is a message from the leader of our country, and should be given respect.

Scott Wooden:

This is not a board issue. The decision lies with the superintendent, principals and individual classroom teachers. I will not micro-manage the day-to-day activities of those individuals. As this now appears to be an annual event, if elected, I will remind Superintendent Peabody to identify the date for next year’s speech and to plan for it appropriately during the school year.

Television forum

All candidates, by the way, were asked to limit their responses to 100 words or less. Some followed that directive better than others, clearly. But all responses appear thoughtfully considered and can provide voters with a deeper understanding of the candidates’ views.

For further insight, watch a televised forum held Sept. 30 at Del Mar Television Productions, where the five candidates responded to eight questions. The broadcast will be aired on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m., Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. It will also be made available on this newspaper’s Web site and at

  1. A number of questions, including the two posed here, went unasked at the forum, due to time constraints.

The forum can help viewers judge each candidate’s readiness for the office by hearing the skills they have to offer and their knowledge of the district’s issues. For those unfamiliar with the candidates, this may assist voters in making an informed decision.
I was certainly enlightened: the choices are fairly clear. More thoughts next week.