New kindergarten cutoff was too quick, parents say

Parents concerned about the new age cutoff for District 51 kindergartners questioned why they weren’t given more time to prepare for the change or an option to skirt the rule for one year at a district-hosted meeting Wednesday evening at the Emerson administration building.

At least three of the two dozen parents who attended the 90-minute question-and-answer session, some with their children, shed tears as they explained their dilemmas. One mother and father said their child missed the new July 15 deadline to turn 5 before enrolling in kindergarten by 19 hours. The couple said they spent hours the last few months working with their son to prepare him for school, all the while assuring him the work was to get him ready for kindergarten.

“Now I have to go back on my word,” the mom said.

Another mom said she is applying for Caprock Academy, a state charter school that will continue to have a Sept. 15 cutoff for kindergartners to turn 5 but she’s not sure she will get into the school through its lottery drawing Tuesday. The deadline to apply for kindergarten at Caprock is 3:30 p.m. today, just nine days after the District 51 School Board voted to change the kindergarten age policy.

The same mom said she may be interested in the district’s early access program that allows gifted four-year-olds to attend kindergarten but few students get in through that process, potential students must be able to complete certain tests to be considered, and the application window closes Friday.

“If I had known this in October I would have been more on top of this. This is a slap in the face,” she said. “You need to give us another year.”

John Williams, the only school board member who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said the board decided to make the new deadline effective in 2014-15 because of data that showed a greater portion of District 51 kids with birthdays between July 15 and September 15 than kids in other two-months blocks ended up with lower reading abilities in early elementary and lower test scores in upper elementary.

“We didn’t do it for any other reason than if it’s good in 2015, why isn’t it good in 2014?” Williams said.

Board member Jeff Leany proposed the idea of changing the kindergarten age cutoff at a Jan. 21 board meeting and the board heard a presentation that included the above-mentioned data at a Feb. 4 workshop.

The board decided as a group to move up the kindergarten cutoff Feb. 18 in order to have the decision locked in before kindergarten roundup March 7.

Cheryl Taylor, the district’s director of academic achievement for elementary schools, said the board did not make a decision sooner or wait a year to change the age policy because “the data was so strong.” She said she agonized over a sudden change in the kindergarten age deadline when her son was hoping to start school in Texas but she is now happy he’s one of the older students in his grade.

“Out of 30 people I found one person who put their child in at the youngest and did not regret it,” Taylor said.

Shelledy Elementary kindergarten teacher Rick Green, who was himself an early kindergarten student with a Sept. 29 birthday, said he has had to have tough conversations with some parents about their young kindergartner not being ready to move on to first-grade.

“I understand your frustrations but the thing you can give them is time,” he said.

District 51 Executive Director of Academic Achievement for Elementary Schools Lesley Rose said the district will offer seniority to any current district preschool students who have to stay in preschool for an extra year.

She added the district is willing to work with any private preschools that want advice on how to handle a third year of preschool for students who are now shut out from kindergarten this fall.

For some parents, it’s been a hard week of difficult conversations about the possibility of more preschool instead of kindergarten this fall. Parent Arianna Viveros said she found out Monday her daughter no longer qualifies for Dual Immersion Academy because of her birthday. She hasn’t found the words to break the news to her daughter yet and isn’t sure what she’ll do next year.

“I worked with her this year knowing she was going to go to kindergarten,” Viveros said after the meeting. “All that work…it’s disappointing.”


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