Like school districts everywhere, our own school district has had to make some tough choices this year in order to operate on budget. So starting last September, our district moved to an alternating day Kindergarten schedule in order to save money by not driving the Kindergarten half day bus. I forget the exact number, but this decision saved around $180,000.
Alternate day schedule means that Bruce goes to school all day on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and about one Friday a month. The alternative was to pay $3,000 and have Bruce go to school every day, all day, in the full day Kindergarten class next door. We chose not to go this route, even though we could have afforded the tuition, because I was worried that Bruce would become bored and disruptive, since most of the Kindergarten academic curriculum doesn’t meet his needs to begin with.
Here are some of the many problems with the alternate day system. By design, you have all of the families who can afford to pay $3,000 in one class, and the families that cannot afford this payment, plus the stay-at-home-mom families, in the other. In the full day class next door, you have kids where all of the families could afford to pay $3,000, plus a number of children who are in daycare. This is a very bizare dichotomy to have in a public school setting.
Then there is the issue of the alternating day schedule itself, or as my husband calls it “School once in a while.” When you add in snow days, holidays, inservice days, and your kid staying home occasionally because he is sick, then you have a schizophrenic schedule which makes teaching kids the basics enormously difficult. Keeping kids on a regular sleep and wake up schedule is also nearly impossible. Why bother waking Bruce up at 6:45 each morning if he sometimes goes as long as eleven days between school?
Bruce’s teacher is caring, intuitive, and calm in the face of a very challenging situation. When I have been in the classroom volunteering I have seen her teach quality lessons, that are designed to be very effective indeed. But when kids are only attending school once in a while, how much can you do?
If the school district is going to stick with this alternating day schedule, then I think the district should start equipping parents to become de facto home-school teachers on the off days. There could be optional actives, lessons, and homework packets for the children to complete on Mondays and Wednesday. This model is being successfully used at a Charter school in Southern California that my cousin’s daughter attends .
Coming from California, the alternating day schedule makes even less sense to me, because when I attended school busing was unavailable, unless your were being integrated across town. So the idea of a busing schedule causing a district to make crucial decisions that adversely effect learning, seems ridiculous. But I understand that our district has tough choices to make this year, and I very much respect our school district leaders and their integrity.