Utica teachers committed to youngest learners

Laurence P. Custodero, president of the Utica Teachers Association, wrote this commentary published May 10 in the Utica Observer-Dispatch

School districts across New York state are focusing on closing the achievement gap between different socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and the Utica City School District is no different.

As we cope with an ever increasing wealth disparity and an influx of multiple ethnic groups, one tool that we, as professional educators, have to close the achievement gap is a strong early childhood education program.

One key strategy that the Utica school district has used to strengthen the education that we provide to our youngest learners was the implementation of full-day kindergarten. Research comparing half-day and full-day kindergarten shows that children benefit from a developmentally appropriate, full-day program, most notably in terms of early academic achievement – a foundation for school and life success.

Full-day kindergarten can afford children the academic learning time needed to prepare for mastery of primary-grade reading and math skills. It is the belief of the Utica Teachers Association, as the professional educators of our children, that a strong full-day kindergarten program will help circumvent subsequent needs for remediation or grade retention.

Full-day kindergarten programs contribute to increased school readiness, lead to higher academic achievement, improves student attendance, supports literacy and language development, benefits children socially and emotionally, and decreases costs to taxpayers by reducing retention and remediation rates. In brief, full-day kindergarten is, without a doubt, a program that is academically, socially and fiscally responsible.

The Utica Teachers Association is concerned about the future of our children’s academic and social development if full-day kindergarten is not restored in the Utica schools.

It is easy to point a finger at individuals and groups for jeopardizing this important program. The union can point a finger at the district for eliminating an integral educational program. The district can point a finger at the union for not agreeing to wage concessions without a complete plan on how education cuts will be restored.

We can all point a finger at a flawed state aid formula that disadvantages impoverished communities like Utica. However, finger-pointing does not help our students.

What we must do is work together to ensure that full-day kindergarten, along with other important academic programs, are restored.

As professional educators, the members of the Utica Teachers Association are committed to working with the district to ensure that our youngest learners are provided with a sound, quality education.

Only in so doing will we close the achievement gap and continue with the proud tradition of education that Utica’s students expect and deserve.

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