District 91 takes encouraging step

Kindergarten programs that keep children occupied for the duration of the school day aren’t universally available, but educators and parents are almost unanimous in their praise. Time and again studies have shown that through socialization, routines and playtime offered in most kindergarten programs, young children more firmly grasp the building blocks necessary for lifelong learning.

Parents, of course, love all of these things, not to mention the convenience that it affords their busy schedules. Not having to worry about leaving work in the middle of the day to transport a child to or from a half-day program is not only helpful, it can also be an incentive that boosts enrollment. Forest Park families are fortunate that their public school offers all-day kindergarten.

And though not many families are taking advantage, the community should also be proud that there is a half-day program for kids on the cusp of beginning their formal education. No doubt, one of the hindrances in fielding a larger class of youngsters is the scheduling conflict faced by working parents. The junior kindergarten program in District 91 is relatively small and has only 30 children. There are 112 kids in the all-day kindergarten program.

But part of a broad expansion of the junior kindergarten program slated for the fall includes a key partnership with the Park District that should go a long way toward attracting more families. In giving young students first dibs on the park’s daycare service, the schools and the park have practically eliminated the scheduling hurdle.

New programs often carry a hefty financial obligation, but the timing of this expansion is remarkable from a dollars and cents standpoint. Enrollment projections in District 91 are quite staggering, and one estimate says class sizes will shrink by more than 20 percent in the next few years. New hires made to run an expanded program can be absorbed by staffing reductions that will occur naturally as the student body dwindles. Other cuts could free up new money for further reinvestment.

In addition, a major component in drawing new students into the program will be the district’s marketing efforts. Superintendent Lou Cavallo was quite frank in his assessment that black children stand to gain the most from an expanded junior kindergarten, and board members would be wise to encourage a targeted campaign.

Fliers, posters and e-mails will help cover the mass marketing angle, but face-to-face discussions within the community will help educators make a more meaningful impact.

As much as the district’s efforts are about improving bottom-line test scores, both the school board and the superintendent have set a sincere tone that speaks to their genuine interest in improving education and opportunity. Delivering that message will certainly generate excitement in this worthwhile project.