Some mother with nursery school-wside youngsters itching to read and spell were anxious to have all-day kindergarten. Others saw a proposal to extend half-day programs into the afternoon as an attempt to force their children out of loving homes and into school too early.
They were addressing a question at a public hearing least week, however, they may be moot in light of budget restraints and the conservative school board's commitment to put money into textbooks and smaller classes.
The proposal to convert all county kindegarten to full-day programs, at an annual cost of about $2 million, is the most controversial section for the early Childhood Policy drawn up by the school staff during the summer. Six county schools currently have all-day kindergarten classes.
The policy aims also to establish the importance of early childhood education, eliminate inconsistencies among the schools, and to expand prekindergarten programs.
More than half of the approximately 45 persons who spoke favored all-day kindergarten, with caveat that some half-day classes should be retained for parents who felt their children were not ready to spend a full day in school.
Martha Wilson said her daughter, who entered a full-day program at Twinbrook Elementary School this year, is typical of many children in the county. "She has had two years of nursery school and wanted to go to a real school, especially to learn to read and spell. At first I was concerned it would be too much. After six weeks, I know it's not."
Sally Weiss of Takoma Park pointed out that in schools like Rolling Terrace, which has many foreign pupils, parents wanted the all-day program. "Our kids need time. Two and a half hours a day is not enough time to learn a new language and adjust to a new culture."
The arguments against all-day kindergarten were mainly budgetary. Jackson Road Elementary kindergarten teacher Barbara Strang got one of the biggest rounds of applause of the evening for telling the board, "The single most effective way to improve education for young children is to significantly reduce the class size, to 20 or less. Rather than spending money to stretch the day, we should use the money to hire more teachers."
Senior high parents, veterans of board hearings, said the money it would cost to provide all-day kindergarten would be better used in the high schools.
"We prefer the seven-period day to all-day kindergartens. In our best interest as a high school, we disapprove instituting a countywide all-day kindergarten," said Reva Jolovitz, member of the Walt Whitman Ptsa executive board.
"For the past several years you haven't asked as what new, innovative programs we would like but rather what we would give up. The latest defeat is the seven-period day," said Cordie Golstein of Albert Einstein High School PTSA.
David Eberly, president of the Montgomery County Education Association representing 7,000 teachers, said he was pleased but also concerned. "The development and acceptance of this policy is occurring too hastily. Kindergarten teachers feel they have been passed over and have little input into the policy," he said.
He said such a policy change should be an educational decision -- not an administrative one or more based on parents' needs, but a decision based on the needs of children themselves. "It should be not for early admission to the first grade but for total development," he said.
The Montgomery County Association for Children with Learning Disabilities joined the senior high parents in defending its slice of the budget. "We recognize the advantages but we oppose it (the policy) due to other unfunded needs," said J. Patrick Reilly, president of the association. "The position of teacher specialist is particularly vulnerable. It's a tragic development to the continuum education staff. We would rather see area offices kept strong then spend money on all-day kindergarten."
A parent pointed out that an afternoon program run by the Recreation Department for kindergarteners was in danger of being cut, increasing the need for all-day kindergarten. About 450 children in 24 schools attend the 2 1/2 hours program, called Creative Enrichment. Parents pay from $120 to $300 per semester for a child to attend two, three or five days a week.
"The program has been a large administrative burden on us. We don't have the staff," said David Robins, director of the county's Department of Recreation. "We also have some question of whether it's an appropriate role for the recreation department or for the board of education."
He said the department had not yet made a decision about paying for the program next year.
The Early Childhood Policy is not on the school board's agenda for its Dec. 9 meeting. Superintendent Edward Andrews will make his operating-budget recommendations to the board in mid-december, and the board will have until mid-february to decide what programs will get money.