Eagle Point School District elementary principals and teachers are working on a proposal to double the amount of time their kindergartners get in class each day.

Eagle Point School District elementary principals and teachers are working on a proposal to double the amount of time their kindergartners get in class each day.

The team of educators got the green light from the Eagle Point School Board earlier this month to develop a plan for implementing full-day kindergarten at six of its schools starting this fall.

About 300 students are enrolled in the district's half-day programs, which offer three hours of instruction a day. Under the new proposal, these students would receive about six hours of instruction a day.

The team has analyzed similar programs throughout the state and will present its proposal to the board late this spring.

"When we looked at studies from around the country, they really demonstrated that kids in full-day programs show greater gains in reading and math than kids in half-day programs," said Tina Mondale, Eagle Point's director of school improvement.

Although kids are not required by law to attend school until age 7, most start earlier. Of those, less than half are ready for kindergarten, based on their comprehension of numbers and letters, Mondale said.

"Which means that our kindergarten teachers are working really hard to get the kids up to the grade level," she added.

In June 2011, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill promising districts funding for full-day kindergarten programs beginning in fall 2015.

"Right now, the state only funds half-day kindergarten using state funds," said Crystal Greene, an Oregon Department of Education spokeswoman. "If districts choose to offer a full-day program, they have to come up with the money."

According to an ODE report, the number of Oregon schools offering full-day kindergarten programs has more than doubled in the last decade — from 135 in 2003 to 306 in 2013.

Thanks to some extra state funds this year, the Eagle Point district can afford to join those ranks sooner than its neighboring districts, which are obligated to use any additional funding to put days back into their school calendars, among other things.

"We didn't cut days, so we were in a position to add programs," Mondale said.

District officials estimate the kindergarten proposal will cost about $718,000 in the first year. Costs include adding six full-time teachers and one part-time teacher, buying curriculum and upgrading classrooms.

In 2003, the Medford School District instituted full-day kindergarten at seven elementary schools using Title 1 funds — federal money to serve the poor — to pay for the longer schedule.

However, in 2011, the district was forced to ax the full-day programs because of budget cuts and sanctions by the federal government for failure to meet benchmarks in the No Child Left Behind Act. Some schools began offering intervention programs to make up for the loss.

Now, Medford kindergarten students begin school at 7:55 a.m. and end at 11 a.m., said Julie Evans, director of elementary education.

"This year, most of our schools are only running a regular half-day program with extra supports within the school day," she said.

"If the state of Oregon allocates the full amount of money for full-day programs, then that is something we'll consider. We know that the more time kids have in school, the more learning can take place."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.