Loudoun, it looks like you will get universal full-day kindergarten. It just might take elementary school attendance boundary changes to get there.
Superintendent Eric Williams and members of the School Board have been working for years on a road map to get to universal full-day kindergarten. Loudoun is one of the last school districts in Virginia to not offer a district-wide full-day program to kindergartners.
The School Board is expected to adopt a plan to reach universal full-day kindergarten at its meeting Tuesday. The plan proposed by Williams doesn’t give a specific year when 100 percent of Loudoun kindergartners will receive a full school day, but it lays out what steps should be taken in the next few years to make progress toward it.
As is, the school system’s strategic plan—Vision 20/20—calls for full-day kindergarten to reach 80 percent of kindergartners by the 2018-2019 school year, but Williams wants to increase that to 83 percent, or about 4,600 students. His staff is weighing whether to place any of the four available classroom trailers at elementary schools to make that possible. The biggest obstacle standing in the way of universal full-day kindergarten is a lack of classroom space in fast-growing parts of the county where school buildings are already cramped.
Williams’ staff is also considering which schools should receive three-classroom additions, at about $2.7 million each. The board’s Capital Improvement Program calls for five additions to be funded in fiscal year 2021 and open in 2023. Williams wants to see funding for those additions accelerated, so they can be ready for students earlier.
Board member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) told the superintendent he’d like to see a more ambitious roll out, and have the program reach at least 85 percent of kindergartners by 2018-2019.
“I think we’re not really moving forward if we don’t do something a little more ambitious,” he said. “Why can’t we look at strategic [attendance] rezoning as a means of achieving this? Because that is a no-cost option.”
Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) agreed. She stressed that she knows how difficult boundary changes are—her district has been involved in nearly every boundary process since she was elected—but it is a prudent option.
“I know it’s not a popular decision, but I’m an advocate for using the facilities that we already have and that would be doing some spot rezonings,” she said. “I don’t see expanding facilities when we have space at adjacent buildings.”
Williams said there are several schools, especially in the Ashburn and Leesburg areas, that could accommodate full-day kindergarten if attendance boundaries were slightly adjusted.
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) asked how it would be possible to do slight “spot rezonings” if kindergartners are not all in the same neighborhood. “You would be going through a full-blown boundary process just because all those kids aren’t centralized in one area,” he said.
Any new attendance changes would apply for kindergarten through fifth-graders—not just kindergarten, Williams said. “So you’re right in that sense…Yes, it could be more significant and more extensive.”
Turgeon suggested reviewing the boundaries countywide—not just planning zone by planning zone but take a holistic look—to audit how space is used not just for kindergarten, but for special education, gifted education and other programs. “I think we need to look outside the box, literally and figuratively,” she said, “and look at where our resources are, even beyond kindergarten.”
After the School Board the superintendent’s “Pathway to Universal FDK” plan, it will look at whether to move classroom additions earlier in its CIP. “And we’ll see how that is received by the county [Board of Supervisors],” Williams said.
Then he can give a target date for when every Loudoun kindergartner can attend a full academic day.
“I’m not ready to give an estimate this year,” he said. “We may be able to do that next year.”