La Center beefs up little ones’ instruction

Kindergarten will be 4 full days a week, free

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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After observing the benefits of extended instruction for kindergarten students during the previous school year, the La Center School District will provide all incoming kindergarten students with a full day of class four times a week in 2011-2012. There will be no charge for the full-day kindergarten.

La Center had 19 kindergarten students who attended full-day classes five times per week during the 2010-2011 school year. The program cost around $1,800 per student for the school year. Around 30 percent of the students attended on scholarship, making their parents’ costs free or reduced, district officials said.

The remainder of the students attended class a total of five times every two weeks, or 2.5 times per week.

Offering increased class hours for all kindergarten students resulted from the district’s desire to best prepare every student for the first grade, La Center Superintendent Mark Mansell said. The plan made sense when weighing the results between many of the students who took extended instruction versus those who did not.

“What we saw (last year) was an advancement in their skills and abilities,” Mansell said, referencing those students who had extended instruction. “A four-day week makes for a more consistent learning environment.”

La Center Elementary School expects to have around 100 kindergarten students spread across five classes this school year, Principal Scott Lincoln said. Classes start at La Center Elementary School on Aug. 31.

In order to provide more class time to the district’s students, Mansell challenged his employees to find creative ways to overcome the same budget restraints faced by school districts across the state.

The school district has shifted a handful of teachers into new grades and consolidated programs. They did so at no extra cost to the district, although the school district lost the potential tuition revenue, Mansell said.

Teachers’ support of the kindergarten learning initiative made the four-day-per-week schedule possible, he added.

La Center will employ five full-time teachers to provide instruction for the kindergarten students. That number includes a third-grade teacher who opted to work with younger students and a reading specialist who will now teach kindergarten.

Reading and math speciality instruction, which was previously offered separately, will now be offered as one package, Mansell said. Kindergarten teachers will use Friday as a preparation day. They will also provide classes from various elementary grades with art instruction.

Mansell and Lincoln noted that the school district sought parents’ input before deciding on the new schedule.

“Last year when we observed the classroom the teacher seemed excited about it,” said Katie Erickson, whose 5-year-old son, Logan, is entering kindergarten later this month. “I think my child will learn better if his teacher is excited.”

Logan has already learned to count to 100, his mother said. Her main goal this school year is for him to learn to read before he enters first grade.

“Knowing my son is going to be in school from Monday through Thursday is a plus,” Erickson said.

La Center joins Evergreen and Vancouver public school systems as Clark County districts that offer free, extended instruction for kindergarten students. Vancouver also has four schools that offer paid-tuition, full-day programs at $2,900 per year.

Battle Ground is offering extended instruction to kindergarten students at a cost of $2,900. The Camas School District planned to offer a similar paid program this year but shelved it due to budget cuts and a lukewarm response from parents.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.