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Center Grove shelves project for kindergarten center

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Center Grove parents won’t be sending their students to a single center focused entirely on kindergartners for now.

About a year ago, Center Grove began considering opening a center for all of its kindergartners and the school district’s preschool program for special needs students.

Kindergartners often need several weeks to get used to the routines of a school day, and Superintendent Richard Arkanoff wanted to investigate whether those students would benefit from attending a building devoted to them. The new center also would open up space at Center Grove elementary schools, which are starting to fill up.

A group of teachers toured centers across the state to find out more about how they work. But school officials found a problem.

Project scrapped

About a year ago Center Grove began considering opening a kindergarten center for its students.

Spring 2012: Superintendent Richard Arkanoff announced he wanted to investigate whether Center Grove should open a building for all of the school district’s kindergarten classes.

Fall 2012: A group of about 25 Center Grove kindergarten teachers began visiting kindergarten centers throughout the state. They wanted to speak with teachers at those buildings about what worked about their centers, what didn’t work and whether Center Grove could benefit from such a center.

Winter: Center Grove decides to table opening a kindergarten center because transporting all of the school district’s kindergartners to a single building every day either would be too expensive or would result in too long of a bus ride for students.

What happens now: If the district finds a quick, inexpensive way to transport students or if kindergarten class sizes begin to change unexpectedly, Center Grove could reconsider opening the center.

Opening a kindergarten center means transporting all of the kindergartners from around the school district to a single building. That would require Center Grove to either send separate bus runs along virtually all its routes exclusively for kindergartners or have students shuttled by buses to at least two buildings each day.

Arkanoff said the school district can’t afford to run bus routes twice, and he doesn’t want 5- and 6-year-olds taking long rides to and from multiple buildings every day.

“We were concerned about that. We didn’t think parents would like that too much, but it was the only cost-effective way we could make transportation work,” he said.

In addition, not all of Center Grove’s kindergarten teachers were convinced a kindergarten center would make students stronger learners. Arkanoff said he wanted a majority of the kindergarten teachers to favor opening a kindergarten center before gauging parent support, but about half the teachers supported the idea and the rest concluded the center wasn’t a necessity.

“That’s just not strong enough support to move forward,” he said.

For now, officials are tabling the idea. But Center Grove still could decide to move forward with plans for a kindergarten center in the future. Each year, officials will review transportation options, as well as whether elementary schools are running out of room for students.

But school officials would have to find a way to address the concerns.

Along with the cost and complication of transportation, kindergarten teachers were concerned about students making the transition to larger elementary schools after spending a year at a kindergarten center, Arkanoff said.

Currently, no Johnson County school district has a school exclusively for kindergartners, although Clark-Pleasant’s Sawmill Woods Elementary School has only kindergarten and first grade.

Last year Arkanoff told the school board he wanted teachers to be able to intervene as early as possible for students who were starting to have trouble keeping up in class, and that a kindergarten center was ideal because teachers more easily could focus on those students’ needs.

The plan had been to use existing buildings, such as old Maple Grove and West Grove elementary schools, for the center and potentially move some other programs from those buildings. The center also would open up room at other elementary schools.

With a kindergarten center, the school district would have had an easier time balancing class sizes. Currently schools struggle to maintain equal kindergarten class sizes because families move to different areas within the school district, Arkanoff said.

Last fall, a group of about 25 kindergarten teachers started touring kindergarten centers across the state to see whether opening a similar center locally would enable teachers to quickly identify and provide more help for students who were falling behind or had special needs. If such a center was deemed both necessary and affordable, then Center Grove would have begun meeting with and surveying parents to see whether they would support the project.

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