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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Towns welcome public kindergarten

No more will teachers wonder about what kind of progress their young students could have made with early instruction.

First-grade teachers in Hudson, Milford and Lyndeborough now will have every pupil already prepared for the demands of elementary school with kindergarten instruction. The communities were, until this fall, three of the remaining nine towns in New Hampshire without the preschool option in public schools.

Educators have long praised the value of kindergarten and how it develops social skills and establishes building blocks in reading, writing and math.

But for towns such as Hudson, Milford and Lyndeborough, not having kindergarten available in public schools had deprived many young children of these early opportunities because their parents couldn’t afford private kindergarten, educators said.

“This is what we’ve been working towards,” Scott Baker, principal of Library Street Elementary School, said in September as Hudson celebrated its first day of public kindergarten.

“When we have kindergarten, they should be more prepared for school, and that extends all the way to high school.”

Educators and parents in Hudson never thought they would see the day. At one point this year, both taxpayers and school officials opposed the start of kindergarten.

At Town Meeting in March, voters rejected funding kindergarten by a 2-1 margin. And the school district opposed a state requirement that every municipality offer public kindergarten by this fall, claiming it was an unfunded mandate and filed suit against the state.

But a judge dismissed the suit, and funding from the state and federal governments made its way to Hudson. The town finally had the impetus and backing to start kindergarten.

“It felt like Christmas, or that we died and went to heaven,” Nottingham West kindergarten teacher Beverly Stanley said as she welcomed students on the first day.