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Decision to not restore full-day kindergarten position causes problem for Palmerton

Published July 08. 2010 05:00PM

A decision to not restore an additional full-day kindergarten position at one of its elementary schools has left Palmerton Area School District in a bind.

The topic was once again the focal point of a workshop meeting of the board of school directors on Tuesday, one month after the board originally shot down the proposal.

Last month, the board on a 5-4 vote granted final adoption to the 2010-11 budget, which calls for a 3.9-percent, or, 1.64-mill, increase that raised the millage rate from 42 to 43.64 mills.

However, the $26,466,378 spending plan did not include the restoration of an additional full-day kindergarten position at the Parkside Education Center after the board rejected the measure on a 5-4 vote.

Superintendent Carol Boyce previously said Towamensing Elementary already has a half-day kindergarten teacher this year, but won't need it next year. As a result, Boyce said the half-day kindergarten teacher will come over to Parkside next year.

The district currently has one full-day kindergarten teacher on staff at Towamensing, while Parkside also has one full-day kindergarten teacher.

If the board had chosen to move the position from part-time to full-time at Parkside, it would have called for a $26,494,978 spending plan.

As a result, Boyce said at that time the board would have to decide at this month's workshop what criteria for test scores should be used so that the number at Towamensing equates to the same at Parkside.

Robert Palazzo, a school psychologist, said a nationally normed assessment test was utilized.

"I made this recommendation based on my expertise," Palazzo said. "These are kids who significantly have difficulty."

However, committee member Carl Bieling said he doesn't agree with the method that was used to test the students.

"It's a tool to be using, but, I think we're misusing the data we're getting out of it," Bieling said. "They are what they are."

But, Palazzo reiterated his belief that the students need to be in a full-day kindergarten program.

"From my professional background, I feel these kids need to be full-day kindergarten," Palazzo said. "The best practice is to use standardized-based assessment."

Boyce said the previous direction was to take the lowest 10 students from each building.

"I'm looking for criteria based on equity," Boyce said. "I have seven weeks until school starts before I have to notify parents."

Parkside Elementary Center/S.S. Palmer Elementary Principal Mary Brumbach explained the rationale behind the administration's recommendation.

"That's why we asked for an additional half-day kindergarten teacher," Brumbach said. "I'm the principal here, and I don't want my children to lose out because they are needier children."

Committee member Susan Debski then suggested the district attempt another approach.

"Maybe we should be focusing at changing our core curriculum," Debski said. "I think we should do that before we hire for equity."

Brumbach reminded the committee to keep in mind what exactly the proposal was.

"Remember, we're asking for a half-time teacher to become a full-day teacher," Brumbach said. "Equity comes in from a liability standpoint in that are we giving the same services to Parkside that we're giving to Towamensing."

Debski said she understood the request, but wasn't sure an additional full-day kindergarten teacher would be the answer.

"I don't have a problem hiring teachers so long as the instruction meets the needs," Debski said. "That doesn't mean the help isn't there."

Regardless, Brumbach said that in her experience, every full-day kindergarten program she's observed tends to work well.

Bieling said he was interested to find out how other districts that don't offer full-day kindergarten are able to get by.

Sherrie Fenner, director of curriculum and instruction, suggested that the district hire a part-time aide in the full-day kindergarten position at Parkside, to which Debski said she agreed.

"I like the idea of hiring an instructional aide," Debski said. "It costs less."

Amid the discussion, resident Michelle O'Neill, who has a child in the district, pleaded with the board to reconsider its stance.

"When you're looking at the half-day program, look at it like it's your children or grandchildren," O'Neill said. "When it comes to children, I think you need to give them everything you can in the first two years."

O'Neill said that while she didn't envy the board for the decisions it's faced with, it is their responsibility to act in the best interests of the students.

"I realize it was a very close vote, but I'd like you to consider another vote," O'Neill said. "Think about the children and what they need and what they deserve."

Boyce said the district will attempt to address the situation as soon as possible.

"The two elementary principals, a school psychologist and I will meet Monday morning to determine the process by which we notify the families," Boyce said. "That will happen very quickly thereafter."

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