Rhinelander School District to consider change to 4K program
Discussion on full-day, five-day expansion at upcoming school board meeting
By Eileen Persike
Rhinelander four year olds may have the opportunity to attend school full time, five days a week next fall. At the Jan. 17 meeting, the School District of Rhinelander Board of Education will discuss expanding the current two-day-a-week pre-kindergarten, or 4K, program to five days.
The Operations and Strategic Planning Committee heard the reasoning for the change Monday night. Superintendent Eric Burke told the committee he hears about the 4K program’s inadequacy nearly every time he visits one of the Rhinelander elementary schools. That feedback, along with a parent survey are part of the reason the expansion is under consideration.
“I think COVID certainly didn’t help, but we have students coming into kindergarten and even first grade where a lot of their basic skills are not there – their school skills,” Burke said.
“Moving to five full days, which is what the administration is recommending, would provide a more stable environment for our youngest learners with less transitions,” he added.
There are 147 students enrolled in 4K for 2021-22. Approximately half attend Monday and Tuesday and the others attend Thursday and Friday full days at the district’s four elementary schools; a dozen of those 147 attend half days at the Stevens Street site, in conjunction with Headstart. Five-day, all-day 4K would take place at the four elementary schools as well as the YMCA of the Northwoods Youth Development Center and the Stevens Street site. A half-day option at the Youth Development Center and Stevens Street site would made available to parents; the district would not provide transportation for half days.
Burke said the district would need to add staff, determined by enrollment.
The committee meeting was attended by several teachers in the district who support the expansion. Crescent 4K teacher Melissa Coleman said consistency and routine are important to development at that age.
“It’s very much a disadvantage to our 4K children at this point, in my opinion, to be only going two days,” Coleman said. “They come to us for two days and then they’re off for five days. By the time they come back to us sometimes it’s re-teaching and having them relearn the skills that we learned last week. So just from an educational perspective, I think expanding it to four or five days would make good academic sense for our youngest learners in our district.”
With all four year olds going to school full time, the question of how that could impact area daycares and other businesses was raised.
“The thought process is if you pull some of those 4Kers up into the school setting or the Y-setting where they have coverage for the whole day that would open up spots for younger children, like the two-year-old or three-year-old crowd,” said Rachel Hoffman, SDR director of teaching, learning and technology.
But YMCA of the Northwoods CEO Ryan Zietlow said there needs to be a conversation on how daycares in the community could be impacted if all the four year olds are taken out of daycares. It could, he said, result in a childcare crisis.
“When you look at child care providers, the infants and twos to two-and-a-halfs are really break-even propositions,” Zietlow told the board. “Childcares run those age ranges because it is important to our community, but if that were to be the only population that child care centers served, it’s going to be very difficult to make it and there could be concerns about longevity and sustainability in the childcare market.”
It is a situation that could hamper economic and workforce development in the community, he added, while noting that he “would give [kids] socially and academically what they need to develop,” and then figure out what support is needed to make that happen.
“Short answer is I think it needs to be a concern when we look at today’s question about revenue from other businesses that could be taken away from a five-day a week full-day program, there potentially could be,” Zietlow continued. “What exactly would that impact be, I don’t know for sure.”
In spite of those concerns, committee chair David Holperin said he thinks the board is ready for a vote.
“Clearly looks like its affordable, it looks like it’s desirable, it looks like it’s practical, so I don’t see any reason why a board member would say no,” Holperin said.
Burke said the administration believes moving to five days is best for students and families, and will put a motion to move forward on Monday’s agenda.