PITTSFIELD -- Children as young as 4 years, 9 months will no longer be admitted into kindergarten classes under a policy revision given initial approval this week by the School Committee.
Susetta Doucette, the early childhood coordinator, said the change would be implemented in stages over two school years, beginning in the fall of 2015. The goal, she said, is to allow children more time to grow physically and emotionally so that they can avoid academic or other problems as they pass through the school system.
Youngsters who are 5 years old as of Oct. 15, 2015, would be allowed to start kindergarten during the 2015-16 school year, Doucette said. For the 2016-17 school year and thereafter, she said, students must be 5 by Sept. 1. The committee will vote on whether to grant final approval at a later date.
Currently, a youngster who is 5 by Dec. 1 can enter kindergarten in the Pittsfield schools that September, officials said. That was said to be the youngest age allowed in Berkshire County and one of the youngest in the state.
Doucette and kindergarten teachers who spoke in favor of the change said the policy has resulted in educational and self-esteem problems for a number of children, resulting in lower achievement levels for the student and for their classes on standardized tests, as well as inferiority issues related to physical size or coordination and athletic ability.
To ease the transition for parents of the children affected, Doucette said, the district plans to offer full-day pre-school during the implementation period.
The proposal was recommended in 2012 by the district’s Early Childhood Education Committee but wasn’t acted on by the School Committee. It was estimated that 60 to 65 children would be affected by the policy change in September 2015 and that about 125 would be affected if the new age policy were fully implemented in 2015.
Doucette said she came to the Pittsfield schools seven years ago, and "teachers have been asking me since 2007 to change this."
"I’m very happy to support this," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, a de facto member of the committee. The first reading of the policy change was approved unanimously.
Doucette said 93 percent of school districts with kindergartens require a child to be 5 by either Aug. 31 or Sept. 1 of the coming school year. Some require a child to be 5 by March of the same year.
In Berkshire County, she said, only Lee schools allow younger students than Pittsfield, going with Oct. 1 as the cutoff date.
"This is going to make a difference in children’s lives," she said. "They will have more confidence."
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