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Full-day school possible

GRANTS PASS — After seeing dramatic jumps in first-graders' reading scores, a Josephine County elementary school will ask the Three Rivers School Board on Monday to make permanent a pilot full-day kindergarten program launched nearly two years ago.

"Fort Vannoy (Elementary School) first-graders are more advanced than the others in the district," said Principal Kathie Hill. "We have the data to show full-day kindergarten is actually making a difference in students' reading scores."

Fort Vannoy's proposal represents the latest in the statewide movement toward full-day kindergarten, hindered primarily by a lack of funding, school district officials said.

A legislative bill to fund full-day kindergarten is expected in the 2009 state legislative session.

"It would be wonderful if full-day kindergarten would be funded by the state, and we could offer it to everyone," said Jann Taylor, Three Rivers schools' curriculum director. "I doubt there would be a district in the state that wouldn't love it."

Currently, the state pays districts half of the per-pupil funding for kindergarten that it provides for students in grades 1 through 12. That means a district such as Medford would receive $3,000 for a kindergartener versus $6,000 for a first-grader.

As a result, most elementary schools in Jackson and Josephine counties offer half-day kindergarten.

Districts such as Medford and Grants Pass provide full-day kindergarten only to the neediest pupils using federal funds designated to serve low-income students.

Other districts such as Ashland, Central Point and Phoenix-Talent have expanded kindergarten to three-fourths of a day.

Fort Vannoy with about 280 students in Grants Pass is the only school in the Three Rivers district that offers full-day kindergarten.

The other Three Rivers schools hold kindergarten all day for 2.5 to four days a week.

By mid-school year, both Fort Vannoy kindergartners and first-graders outperformed their peers at other Three Rivers schools in letter naming, phonemes and letter sounds on routine tests called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires all third-graders to score at grade level in reading and math by 2014.

Fort Vannoy can afford to offer full-day kindergarten because of its small enrollment, about 40 children in kindergarten, Hill said.

There is no extra cost associated with Fort Vannoy's program because the enrollment is so small. Instead of hiring more kindergarten teachers, the school has diverted teacher-aide time from other grades to help out the school's only kindergarten teacher, Dave Holden.

"The benefits outweigh that because students in the first grade this year are looking to be more and more capable than in the past because they're better prepared," Hill said.

The students rotate through three stations throughout the day: instructional time with Holden, structured play with a teacher aide and small group reading with three other teacher aides.

The Medford School District, the largest in Jackson and Josephine counties, has seen positive results from its full-day kindergarten programs at Jackson, Roosevelt, Washington, Howard, Oak Grove, Jefferson and Wilson elementary schools.

Students from those schools generally have higher reading scores than those at schools with half-day kindergarten, said Todd Bloomquist, Medford schools curriculum director.

"It's a long day for their age, but if you plan it well, it can level the playing field for kids who haven't had a lot of exposure to language and reading at home," Bloomquist said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.