Next year's Gilbert district kindergartners will have less art, music and P.E. instruction, and their teachers will have less time with help from instructional assistants.
It's another change the Gilbert Unified School District is making to cut costs during the budget crisis, and it's a move that many teachers and parents are not happy about.
"We're changing culture and changing culture is difficult," said Barbara VeNard, Gilbert's assistant superintendent of educational services. She sent an e-mail Wednesday to kindergarten teachers to let them know of the changes.
Full-day, free kindergarten will continue for the 2009-10 school year, although class sizes are expected to be larger.
However, physical education and music teachers will only give their classes to kindergartners on early-release days, which is about an average of once a month, VeNard said.
Full-day kindergartners now go to music and P.E. classes twice every six-day rotation.
Art classes, which are new this year for kindergarten, are taught once every 12 days. This will change next year to about six times a school year, or once every other 12-day cycle, VeNard said.
The schedules for these "special" classes are still being worked out.
The new schedule will save money because it's a reduction in P.E., music and art teachers, VeNard said.
Kindergarten instructional aides are also getting their hours reduced next school year. Full-day aides, who work 5 1/2 hours, will work four hours. Aides for the half-day kindergarten will work two hours, which is a half-hour less than what they work now, VeNard said.
"We are reducing hours in aides at a rate we still feel confident we can maintain student achievement in our kindergarten classes," VeNard said Wednesday. "I believe the introduction to P.E., art and music from our special area instructors and the funding of instructional assistants is a good balance for our kindergarten program."
Despite less time in these extra classes, VeNard said she believes "kindergarten teachers already integrate music, art and P.E. in their curriculum." She's not asking teachers to change their teaching schedules if they don't incorporate these subjects in everyday learning.
However, some teachers still feel like they are being asked to teach more of these subjects in their classes.
Harris Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kerry Bock said she doesn't have access to musical instruments and a lot of art supplies and doesn't have the extra money to buy these items.
"Kindergarten teachers are not qualified to teach art, music and P.E.," Bock told the school board Tuesday night. "Kindergarten has changed to be more curriculum and academic driven. They need an outlet of more fun things and teachers need time to plan."
With the reduction in assistants and specials, teachers and parents are concerned there will not be enough time for planning lessons.
However, VeNard said the goal is for kindergarten teachers to have a 30-minute lunch and a 30-minute planning period back-to-back every day.
VeNard said aides will help out by taking students to lunch, supervising them during recess and providing 10 minutes of a "quiet transition activity" after lunch and recess. She stressed aides will "not have to teach any lessons."
"Teachers will survive larger class sizes, kindergarten teachers will adjust to not having quality prep time, but the kids will pay," Bock said.
Marshann Donahue, a music teacher at Meridian Elementary School, said the extra classes give teachers a much-needed break and the students are going to be hurt by not having as much time in these classes.
"My goodness gracious, I think kindergarten teachers must have raw hamburger every morning to get them through the day," Donahue told the school board Tuesday night. "They need the opportunity to have their preps (preparation time). It's very important to have breaks."
Lisa Cassano, the Parent Teacher Organization president at Pioneer Elementary School, said she doesn't agree with the kindergarten changes. She thinks administrators need to spend more time in the classroom before they make changes that will affect students.
"They're making these cuts, but they're not seeing what's going on before they're cutting," said Cassano, who has two children in the district and is a former Gilbert third-grade teacher. "I don't think kids are in the equation."
As far as reducing the time in art, music and P.E., Cassano said she thinks "there's a lot of correlation between art and P.E." classes, academic development and how a child's mind develops.
"I think we're going to see a decrease in kids' academic achievements because of this," Cassano said.