These are busy, demanding days for public education administrators in Utah. But, as we tell our students, one just has to make time for the things that matter.
We are lucky, as educators, to be present for many of the moments that matter to our students. Particularly special are those moments when a child, for the very first time, lights up with new knowledge, or masters a new skill, or makes a new best friend.
There is perhaps no place in our schools where so many magic moments happen than in the kindergarten classroom, where many little ones are taking their first steps on a journey of academic and social development.
Kindergarten matters. That is why we are taking the time to write this guest opinion piece. We want families across the state to know how supportive we are of expanding full-day kindergarten. We want every child to have the opportunity to experience as many magic moments of learning and growth, as early as possible, that we can provide.
We believe full-day kindergarten should be an option for every Utah family. Right now, less than one-third of all kindergartners in the state are able to attend a full-day program. As district leaders, we know many, many more families would like that opportunity for their children.
HB193, Full Day Kindergarten, sponsored by Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Ogden, provides a pathway for us to offer that opportunity to families.
Along with our fellow superintendents represented by the Utah State Superintendents Association, we enthusiastically support the passage of HB193 — and we implore our elected officials to support it, as well.
The five districts we represent — Cache, Granite, North Sanpete, Sevier and Washington — serve more than 122,000 children each year, from the top of our state to the bottom. That is nearly one-fifth of all enrolled public school students in Utah.
Granite is the third largest district in the state, with about 60,000 enrolled students. North Sanpete is one of the smallest, with around 2,500. Our districts each face very different challenges when it comes to expanding our full-day kindergarten programs so that all interested families can participate.
Some of us will struggle to find additional classroom space. Some will worry about recruiting new teachers. We may need new bussing plans, or a lot of new classroom equipment. If HB193 passes, we face a lot of work to make its vision a reality for our diverse communities.
But this is work we need to do, and now is the time to do it. Full-day kindergarten is a time-tested early learning practice that yields great results for the vast majority of children. We are eager to offer it as an option to every family, just as we are eager to work with families who prefer their children attend a half-day session instead.
In districts that already offer at least some full-day kindergarten, our data shows that children in full-day programs make greater academic gains than their half-day peers. Our teachers report that children who have completed full-day kindergarten are better prepared for first grade.
That doesn’t mean full-day kindergarten is the right fit for every family, of course. We support how HB193 keeps the choice in the hands of parents, to decide what type of program is best for their children.
Utah has been much too far behind, for far too many years, when it comes to full-day kindergarten. As our understanding of the importance of early learning has grown, our drive to expand full-day kindergarten options has grown as well. This is the year to commit to full state funding for full-day kindergarten.
Steven Norton is superintendent of Cache County School District. Rich K. Nye is superintendent of Granite School District. Cade Douglas is superintendent of Sevier School District. Nan Ault is superintendent of North Sanpete School District. Larry Bergeson is superintendent of Washington County School District.