Starting in September, Brick Township kindergartners will go to school for a full day in their local elementary schools.
The Board of Education unanimously adopted a full day kindergarten program on Thursday night, paving the way for kindergarten students to attend their local elementary schools and for the Primary Learning Center to be "repurposed."
For many years, kindergarten students have attended a half-day program at the PLC, a kindergarten-only school built in a former shopping center on Chambers Bridge Road.
The board approved a plan devised by a Milltown, Middlesex County-based demographer, Ross Haber, that will transition students back to their local schools. The plan, Haber said, will allow students to be closer to home, allow kindergarten and first grade teachers to work together and require fewer school bus runs per day.
"Any plan that we make now which involves full day kindergarten, will last," said Haber, whose attendance projections determined that with a recent drop in student population, many unused classrooms in elementary schools could be used for the full-day program.
Haber's projections took into account potential shifts in population due to Superstorm Sandy, as well as potential increases in student population due to the full-day offerring, since many parents previously chose to send their children to private and parochial schools.
"A full day problem will, likely, bring a lot of these people back into the district," said Haber. "We did take that into account."
At most, Haber said, the district's student population could increase by about 630 students, though it will likely be less.
Board members agreed: it's time for a full-day program.
"Only 21 percent of school districts in New Jersey do not have full day kindergarten," said board member Larry Reid, who has pushed for full-day kindergarten since he was elected to the board.
"We've been looking at this for many months," said Reid. "When you have declining enrollment, you have empty classrooms. If we have empty classrooms, and we can fill them up with full-day kindergarten, that's a benefit for the students."
As for the Primary Learning Center building, there are many options on the table, said Board President Sharon Cantillo.
Two of those options include a fee-based preschool program to generate revenue for the district, or an academy school which would create a dedicated program for students interested in high-demand fields such as math, science or engineering.
In the mean time, the present special education students who attend classes at the PLC will remain there.
"We have many different uses for that building, all good for the students of this district," said Cantillo.
Superintendent Dr. Walter Uszenski is currently developing those options into potential plans, Cantillo said.
Kindergartners will ride to school each day on the bus with other elementary students, and Uszenski said the district will explore a "big brother and big sister" program so older students can look out for the younger ones. It's been a success in other districts, he said.
Plus, parents can expect their kindergartners to have a full day of learning with no nap time.
"Teachers can teach from bell to bell," he said.
Uszenski also said since future kindergarten students will have a leg up over previous classes, the first grade curriculum may be augmented to reflect their greater experience.
There was no cost estimate given for the program, since state aid figures for the coming school year have not yet been announced. But new teachers will be hired. Still, the cost of the plan could be offset by transportation savings as well as revenue generation from the PLC, officials said.
Kindergarten registration for the 2013-14 school year begins next week.