Loudoun, hold on to your crayons. The school system is one step—one giant leap, really—closer to providing every kindergartner with a full academic day.
The School Board on Tuesday adopted its long-promised road map to universal full-day kindergarten. Loudoun is among the last districts in Virginia to not offer a district-wide full-day program to its youngest students.
“We’re one of the last hold outs, and I don’t say that proudly,” Director of Elementary Education W. Michael Martin said. “This provides a clear path to the end of this destination.
The plan outlines the specifics about what hurdles stand in the way to expand the full-day kindergarten program and includes options to get over them—including school building additions, classroom trailers, and attendance boundary changes.
Superintendent Eric Williams, Martin, and board members have been working for years to draft a step-by-step plan to get to universal full-day kindergarten, weighing enrollment projections and funding constraints with a communitywide push to expand the program.
They have made big strides in recent years. Since Williams was hired as superintendent in 2014, the district has increased its full-day kindergarten offerings from 11 percent to 82 percent, or about 4,600 students, as of this fall.
The adopted “Pathway to Universal FDK” plan addresses the biggest obstacle standing in the way to bring that up to 100 percent: a lack of classroom space in fast-growing parts of the county where school buildings are already cramped.
One of the potential solutions is to place any of the four available classroom trailers at elementary schools. Williams’ staff is also looking at 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.
Earlier this month, Williams told the School Board he’d like to see 83 percent of kindergartners receive a full school day by the 2018-2019 school year. But ahead of adopting the final plan Tuesday, board members nudged him to expand the program to more kids earlier, even if it means attendance boundary changes.
“I think we’re not really moving forward if we don’t do something a little more ambitious,” said Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), who’d like to see the program reach 85 percent of kindergartners within the next two years. “Why can’t we look at strategic [attendance] rezoning as a means of achieving this? Because that is a no-cost option.”
At least a few board members sounded in favor of slight adjustments to attendance boundaries to make space for full-day programs.
There are just a handful of elementary schools that will not offer at least one full-day kindergarten class starting this fall: Arcola, Buffalo Trail, Hillside, Legacy, Liberty and Lucketts.
For this next school year, 49 of the county’s 55 elementary school will offer at least one full-day kindergarten class, and 39 schools will offer a full school day to every one of its kindergartners.
Board members thanked the superintendent and his staff for their work to create a thoughtful blueprint to eventually bring the all-day program to every kindergartner in the county.
Joy Maloney, who campaigned on delivering full-day kindergarten to all of Loudoun, told Williams, “It’s so personally fulfilling to be able say, ‘yes we do have a plan to get to 100% FDK and here it is. I can point you to it.”
The board’s next step is to formally ask the county Board of Supervisors to fund classroom additions earlier. Then, Williams said he could give a target date for when Loudoun will be off the short list of Virginia school systems without universal full-day kindergarten.
“I’m not ready to give an estimate this year,” he said. “We may be able to do that next year.”
As Martin put it, “We’re within striking distance.”