Not too young to count

Kindergartners Jonathan Hayes, left, and NIck Sheirner work on an airport project as classmates ride donkeys at Holy Family Catholic School. Holy Family and other private schools report increased inquiries from parents about kindergarten after School District 51 changed the cutoff date for children reaching their fifth birthdays.

Some Grand Valley private schools have seen an uptick in interest following a decision to move the cutoff date for incoming kindergartners to turn 5 before enrolling in local public schools.

District 51 School Board members voted unanimously Feb. 18 to move the cutoff date for a kindergartner’s fifth birthday from Sept. 15 to July 15. Many private schools as well as Caprock Academy, a state charter school, are keeping the Sept. 15 deadline, providing parents an option for continuing with plans to send their children with late-summer birthdays to kindergarten this fall.

Several calls have come in to Bookcliff Christian School since the school board’s decision, according to that school’s sole kindergarten teacher, Jamie Harris. Both parents who were considering the school before the decision and parents with a newfound interest in the school because of the district’s new cutoff date have been calling to ask whether Bookcliff will start using July 15 as its cutoff date, too. It is not, instead continuing to use Sept. 15 as a soft guideline for a fifth birthday deadline for incoming kindergartners.

“Some (callers) hadn’t thought about private school but were pretty frustrated by the change in date. They had late notice and they’ve been waiting all year to start kindergarten. That would be a big blow to these students who have been preparing all year,” Harris said. “More than anything, they’re worried about their child being bored.”

Younger students

There have also been more interested callers this month at Holy Family Catholic School, but Principal Jake Aubert said he’s not sure if that’s related to the school district’s change. Holy Family is making a change of its own, moving up the kindergarten cutoff date from Sept. 15 to Aug. 15 for fifth birthdays, although Aubert added that deadline will be flexible. He said the school made that decision in order to keep up with calendar changes in recent years that moved up the start of school in both the district and at Holy Family from the third week of August to the first week of August.

Although some students are ready to begin kindergarten as the youngest in their class, Aubert said he respects the district’s decision to move up the age cutoff. He has seen some children struggle as younger students, especially when it comes to socialization and maturity.

“When you can give a child the gift of a year, it can make a tremendous difference,” Aubert said.

Holy Family plans to stick with its typical 50 slots available for kindergartners this fall, but some schools fluctuate year to year. Christian Community Schools Administrator Debbie Childs said the school has 10 kindergartners now but the school has room for more this fall, something they may need. Childs said parents usually call in March or April inquiring about kindergarten slots but she already has received a half-dozen calls from interested parents. The school is sticking with a Sept. 15 cutoff.

“I would assume that that’s a possibility,” she said when asked if enrollment could see an uptick from families with a child who cannot get into a District 51 school due to their birth date.

Skirting deadline

Parents do have non-private school options for 2014-15 even if their child is too young for the new policy. Caprock Academy, which stopped taking kindergarten applications Thursday, will maintain a Sept. 15 deadline for kids to turn five before entering kindergarten. The lottery to decide which children will get the school’s 44 full-day kindergarten and 40 half-day kindergarten slots will take place Tuesday. Full-day kindergarten costs $300 a month but half-day kindergarten is tuition-free at Caprock.

A Caprock administrator who said she is not authorized to speak on the record on behalf of the school said Thursday the school had not yet counted applicants nor were office staff sure if there had been an uptick in interest this year.

Parents still interested in enrolling their children who no longer make the cutoff in District 51 kindergarten can get around the new deadline only one way: by applying for early access, a program that allows gifted 4-year-olds to enter kindergarten. Applications for the program were due Friday and testing will take place in March. Only students who can pass emotional and academic testing that shows they would be advanced, not just prepared, for kindergarten get in through early access.

District 51 received about 20 early access applications last year. Three of those students qualified. The district was predicting as of late last week they would receive about 40 applications.

Enrollment, budget

Ironically, some parents feel they are being short-changed by the district’s decision but the district itself will likely endure a budget hit thanks to the new cutoff date. Most students entering District 51 kindergartens in 2014-15 will have a birthday between Sept. 15 and July 15, making it a smaller class overall. Each kindergarten student in the district counts as 0.58 of a full-time equivalent student in the state funding formula, which awards a district a certain portion of funding based on a full-time equivalent student count.

This year, 255 out of 1,693 District 51 kindergarten students have a birthday between July 15 and Sept. 15. The state funding amount per student is $6,248 per student, although a recently passed bill in the state Capitol will probably increase that amount to an originally budgeted $6,311 per student.

If the new rule had gone into effect last summer, the district would have lost out on at least $924,000. A similar number could be shed from the district’s budget next year, depending on birthdays and number of children in this year’s cohort, enrollment in other grades, and where state funding will land in the upcoming fiscal year.

It’s a cut that Lesley Rose, District 51 executive director of academic achievement at the elementary level, said school board members were willing to risk because they were concerned about data that showed the youngest kindergartners in the district are over-represented in low reading ability and standardized test score categories throughout elementary school.

“The board was well aware of that when they made the decision,” Rose said of the potential funding decrease.


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