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L.A. Unified OKs All-Day Kindergarten

The pace of the switch at 432 elementary schools depends on whether a bond measure succeeds.

February 11, 2004|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

Kindergarten, widely regarded as a key element in a child's academic success, will be expanding from half- to full-day in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Board of Education decided Tuesday.

However, the pace of carrying out the commitment to switching every kindergarten to full-day depends largely on whether voters approve Measure R, a $3.87-billion school facilities bond proposal on the March 2 ballot, officials acknowledged.

The board indicated its determination to proceed with the change within four years at the district's 432 elementary schools, but it would take longer if the bond measure fails. And the district may try again for a bond measure in November if voters reject the March measure.

The board's unanimous vote aligns the nation's second-largest school district with a growing trend to give youngsters a better start at academics. According to Census 2000, 60% of American kindergartners attend full-day sessions, giving them more time to master their ABCs, tap their artistic talents and hone listening and verbalization skills.

Los Angeles Unified officials said they expected the switch could be made as early as the next school year at 159 campuses that require little or no alteration to accommodate the all-day sessions. (Currently, kindergarten classrooms do double duty, serving one class in the morning and another in the afternoon.)

The district has earmarked $100 million from Measure R. Along with matching funds from a state bond measure also on the March 2 ballot, this would cover the cost of renovations, new construction or portable classrooms over four years at most other campuses. About 30 schools face extra challenges because of space and other limitations.

School board member David Tokofsky, the parent of one of the Los Angeles district's 57,000 kindergartners, spearheaded Tuesday's resolution. Tokofsky labeled the policy "both educationally sound and family-friendly."

Board member Marlene Canter called the new policy "one of the biggest investments we can make for our students."

Some board members questioned whether partial implementation might shortchange students in crowded urban schools, but Tokofsky said it was important to commit to full-day kindergarten and work out the funding and other issues later. He and others offered no timetable if bond measures fail repeatedly.

Experts say full-day kindergartens help children with limited English skills and keep students competitive in an era of standardized testing. Parents have lobbied for full-day kindergarten as an alternative to pricey day care and baby-sitters.

The Pasadena Unified School District has some pilot full-day kindergartens and last fall voted to make the longer sessions standard throughout the district. In the Los Angeles district, the Community Magnet School in Bel-Air already has a full-day program, as do several local charter schools that are not technically part of the district.

Several states, including Maryland and New Mexico, have taken steps to convert all their kindergartens to full-day. In California, however, kindergarten attendance is not mandatory.

Los Angeles Supt. Roy Romer has said that 5,000 fewer students are enrolled in the district's kindergartens than in first grade. He expects that gap to decrease with full-day kindergarten, which would be attractive to families with busy work schedules.

In other action Tuesday, the board began another effort to erase the gap in academic achievement between Latinos, who make up nearly 72% of district students, and white and Asian students.

Urged by representatives of several academic and nonprofit groups, the board unanimously adopted board President Jose Huizar's motion to research classroom methods that are having success with Latino students and to make recommendations for spreading those throughout the district.

Board members Mike Lansing and Marguerite LaMotte questioned how the project would fit in with a similar effort to probe the reasons for the achievement lag among African American students. LaMotte, noting that Pacific Islanders lag even farther behind, said the initiative ought to include all groups, not just Latinos.

"The intent is to benefit all students," Huizar said.

The board also approved a new charter school that plans to emphasize instilling entrepreneurial skills and values in its students. Ivy Academia won approval to open a school with kindergarten through 12th grade in Canoga Park.

The school, whose advisory board includes former school board member Caprice Young -- now a leader in the charter school movement -- and management professor and school reform advocate William Ouchi, plans to open this fall with 285 students in kindergarten, fourth, fifth and sixth grades, eventually growing to 915 students in all grades.

Ivy Academia received only a three-year charter, however, and must undergo a district review at the end of that period if it wishes to continue.

Another charter school, approved last May, won board permission to build a district-financed, $20-million elementary school, also in Canoga Park. The district will own the campus, which it plans to lease to the charter operator, a subsidiary of the nonprofit New Economics for Women, for $1 a year.

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