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New D-300 leader wants to push for statewide kindergarten mandate

CARPENTERSVILLE – The new leader at District 300 wants to channel the district's politically active spirit and push state lawmakers to require full-day kindergarten, a mandate that only 11 states currently allow.

Nearly a month into his tenure, Chief Executive Officer Fred Heid told the Northwest Herald that he will ask board members to make mandatory, daylong kindergarten a legislative priority, an annual list used by school officials to advocate for education issues debated in Springfield.

A statewide requirement would help students at the Carpentersville-based school district and elsewhere develop socially and emotionally before they enter the elementary grades and ensure that children with learning difficulties receive the necessary support, Heid said.

"We need to take a stronger stance here, and as a state, to have mandatory full-day kindergarten," Heid said. "I'm going to pull the data and provide a presentation to the board and to others that our legislative platform this year will take a much stronger stance and position on full-day kindergarten."

Even though District 300 offers some form of full-day kindergarten at its 17 elementary schools, questions internally remain whether the district has the space and money to make required full-day classes work.

Board Vice President Joe Stevens said the issue is not on the board's "radar yet," adding that Heid hasn't mentioned having the district advocate for a full-day requirement statewide.

Board members would at least be open to discussing the idea of required full-day kindergarten classes at District 300, he said.

"We do know full-day kindergarten does prepare students better," Stevens said. "I would be very open to it, if we could afford a way to do it and not have a space problem."

Illinois requires all school districts to have half-day kindergarten classes, with the option to provide full-day classes. Across the country, only 11 states, mostly located in the south, and Washington, D.C., require full-day kindergarten, according to the Education Commission of the States.

District 300 parents at most elementary schools can pay $250 monthly in tuition to send their children to full-day kindergarten, but the option is limited by classroom space, district administrators said.

The district's four elementary schools with large low-income populations also offer a program similar to full-day kindergarten for children who need extra instruction.

Despite the uncertainty, the push to put full-day kindergarten under the legislative spotlight makes sense for Heid, who has said he wants to boost the district's achievement scores once the more rigorous Common Core standards take effect.

"A lot of social skills get missed in a half-day kindergarten program because we are so focused on the curriculum," Heid said. "The other problem with half-day kindergarten is teachers don't have enough time to address the individual needs of every child."

District 300 has a track record of using its size as a way to influence education-related issues.

In 2011, officials garnered widespread attention when they organized districtwide opposition to a state incentives package meant to prevent Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Corp. from leaving Illinois.

Officials this spring also tried to lobby state lawmakers to release overdue construction money that would have financed the new administration building and Oak Ridge School renovation.

The district board also will soon approve a split of its legislative panel into two committees that, members say, will devote more resources to community engagement and allow officials to respond quicker to education bills proposed during legislative sessions.

In the coming months, the board should have a clearer sense on whether mandatory, full-day kindergarten will be on its legislative radar.

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