An element that had been missing for two-plus years was returned to action at the Monday, Sept. 11 Oakdale Joint Unified School District board meeting, as a trio of students from Fair Oaks Elementary kicked off the monthly session by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
Fair Oaks Falcons Michael Gain, Chloe Gallardo and Moses Jackson were each in attendance and introduced to the board prior to leading the group in the pledge.
Once a staple at the start of each board meeting, the practice of having students lead the pledge was discontinued during COVID, as many meetings were virtual, but has now resumed.
The main topic for the night, which was noted as long awaited by many in attendance, was the passing of Agenda item 12.5, the approval of all day kindergarten in the OJUSD for the 2024-25 year.
While the decision was unanimous, it did not come without teachers as well as board members voicing thoughts and concerns regarding how to make the change most beneficial for the students.
“Full day kinder will keep Oakdale Joint Unified School District competitive with other districts that already offer full day K,” OJUSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Gillian Wegener shared, “possibly drawing in Oakdale families who have enrolled their students in other districts that already offer full day kindergarten.”
She said students will “have lots of time for developmental play,” noting there will be no new curriculum introduced with the all day change. Rather, the extension of class time will give teachers ample time to teach reading, writing and math, the most fundamental of skills.
Sierra View Kindergarten teachers Brooke Tank and Nancy Hill were both in attendance to share support as well as concerns as the all day plan goes forward.
“At the beginning of our year we have students from diverse backgrounds,” Tank said when addressing the board. “Most do not possess independence, this is taught. Most do not know where the bathroom is, how to flush a toilet, turn on a light, wash hands, use scissors, pack a backpack and follow directions among countless other skills.”
Tank further noted the importance of the help from an aide, most especially in the morning, to continue to be successful as teachers.
“My hope is that you advocate for us and understand that we are excited to move forward with full day kinder but with a clear plan,” she said.
Part of the clear plan noted by Tank included a three-hour aide for each kindergarten class in the morning when instruction will be taking place.
Colleague Hill expressed as a tenured teacher she has looked forward to the day of full day kindergarten. Also voicing concern with regard to the aide time, Hill shared she believes an aide should be in all classrooms during the morning hours.
“We have been told there will be some sort of aide time, but there have been no guarantees of how much time we will get or what time of day we will get them,” Hill stated.
“Moving to a full day schedule I will lose a lot of my prep time. Having an aide will not only support with the academics and the behaviors but will also help me with a tremendous amount of prep work that’s required in kindergarten,” Hill continued.
OJUSD President Tina Shatswell inquired as to what the aide plan was currently.
Wegener shared while she would love to hire a full team of 14 three-hour aides, she’s not sure if that’s realistic, adding that it might be more conducive to hire a team of seven and split six-hour shifts.
“Instructional aides have been part of the kindergarten plan since we began talking about it two years ago,” Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources Craig Redman stated. “When we talked about staffing in the last board meeting, there is a concern about hiring 14 three-hour staff (members). We can hire seven. Hiring 14 can be difficult. We need to determine what is the best plan to get these instructional aides in the class.”
Discussion continued over if the teachers could trust that the district will do all that they can to provide sufficient aides for all day kinder. However, by not moving forward until things are perfect and prolonging passing of implementation it would delay the start.
“It’s been budgeted, so what did we budget for,” board member Terri Taylor asked Chief Business Officer, Kassandra Booth.
“Technically the six,” Booth said of the budgeted seven aides at six hours each per day. “It’s more expensive because of the benefits required for the six-hour position.”
Members of the board expressed more trust in finding seven aides at six hours per day than 14 three-hour shifts, noting the challenges of filling current positions in the district.
The decision to move forward with the 2024-25 implementation of all day kindergarten was passed by the board with no opposition.
Wegener thanked the kindergarten teachers for showing up, as well as their candor during the process.
During public comment OJUSD parent Michael Nessl addressed the board expressing concern about the new strain of COVID and a possible return of the pandemic and a pending shutdown, which is being spoken of in some media outlets. Nessl requested that Superintendent Larry Mendonca return to the next board meeting with a resolution to make the OJUSD a no mask/no vaccine district for the coronavirus or any other variant.
“We need to act now to protect the personal freedoms of our kids and get ahead of any universal mandates that may come in the next few months,” Nessl stated.
As is customary the board did not offer response, but rather thanked him for speaking.
The next OJUSD Board meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 9 at the OJUSD Tech Center. Open session will begin at 6:30 p.m.