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All-day kindergarten: Free for all

Come all ye kindergartners.

The Bremerton School District board voted unanimously Thursday, March 30 to offer free all-day kindergarten through a combination of district and Initiative 728 funding.

The move makes Bremerton one of few districts in the state to do so and puts it among the largest with a free all-day kindergarten program.

District Community Service Coordinator Krista Carlson said there are scattered tiny districts in eastern and southwest Washington which have all-day kindergarten, but many of them have just handfuls of students.

Free all-day kindergarten tackles declining enrollment which has hit Bremerton hard in recent years. District officials researched free all-day kindergarten efforts made in two Arizona districts which drew in many children from surrounding districts along with some of their siblings, and retained them.

Carlson said the Tempe, Ariz. district expected to retain 25 to 30 percent of those students a year later but got more than 70 percent to come back.

In 2002, Bremerton began offering extended kindergarten to students struggling to meet reading achievement standards. Fourteen students per elementary school were involved in the program and their scores showed improvement.

A committee formed to study free all-day kindergarten had two goals: increasing the number of students meeting reading standards and drawing children to Bremerton. They considered keeping the status quo, increasing the number of kindergartners in the extended program and free all-day kindergarten for all.

Free all-day kindergarten will be reviewed by the school administration after one year.

“We’ve got to do both ... retention of (current) students and bring in (new ones),” said superintendent Bette Hyde. “We’ve got to bring them in and keep them happy so they’ll stay with us.”

I-728 funding includes teaching the teachers and ReadWell instruction for them begins in June.

“One of the key things about kids enjoying school ... is having (a teacher) they can relate to and who (cares) about them,” said school board member DeWayne Boyd.

Board members discussed the merits of free all-day kindergarten as opposed to funding for secondary school ventures with the same pool of money. They concluded the kindergarten option was the best investment.

“If we continue to lose kids year after year, we have a smaller pot to draw from,” Carlson said. “This is an investment that’s probably one of the best things we can do to reverse (underenrollment).”

“Early childhood preschool and kindergarten have been our two most successful I-728 programs,” said director of special programs Linda Sullivan-Dudzic. “Those are what the community is telling us is working and that they want to see more of. We don’t have to guess at the probability of success because we know that it’s working.”

The program is expected to support 422 students for 2006-2007 including a maximum of 50 out-of-district kindergartners.

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