What would Woodson do with more space?

Published 8:44 am Friday, October 7, 2011

By Jean McDermo

Woodson Kindergarten Center Principal

The first day of school jitters have waned and 396 Woodson Kindergarten Center Critters (which is how we affectionately refer to our students) have settled into the new routines of school like riding the school bus, taking turns, sharing toys, listening quietly while others speak, producing the sounds that letters make, sorting items into groups of five — to name a few — all in a classroom with 23 other kindergarten students. Woodson enrollment is up from last year — from 362 to 396 students, from16 to 17 teachers, from 21/22 in a class to 23/24 in a class. Will this trend continue?

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Woodson Kindergarten Center’s history is an interesting one. Seven years ago, the Austin Public School District made a commitment to fund all-day every day kindergarten. In this era of high stakes testing, it is important that all of our children get the best start possible as they begin their education — one that begins to prepare our children academically and socially. The days of only play time and nap time during kindergarten are gone. Academic instruction is an integral part of a kindergartner’s school day, but we must not lose sight of the importance of play and social-emotional development as well. A full day program is imperative to address all of these needs in a developmentally appropriate manner. There wasn’t enough room at neighborhood schools to accommodate the additional rooms needed to house full-day kindergarten programs — leading to the creation of the Woodson Kindergarten Center.

When the Kindergarten Center was opened, enrollment was projected to be about 250 students, something that the Woodson facility could easily accommodate. To our surprise, 350 kindergartners showed up that year. A creative use of space and the addition of three classrooms helped to accommodate the additional 100 students. An enrollment of 350 students has remained relatively steady for the past seven years. However, a demographic study conducted two years ago, based on births in Mower County, points to a steady increase in enrollment at the kindergarten level for the next few years. Projections from this study have proved to be accurate for the past two years.

Trends are also showing that young families are moving to and remaining in Austin to replace an aging work force. This translates into needs for more classroom space at all levels as these students travel through the grades — more space needed at the kindergarten center, at the elementary schools and at the middle school.

A recommendation has been made that an addition of six classrooms to the Woodson complex would ease the crowding that presently exists. Another set of student boys and girls bathrooms would also be added.

These two additions to our site would have the following impact:


1) 18 classrooms would be available for general education instruction. These would be housed in three wings of the school, each wing with its own set of bathrooms.

2) Two classrooms would be set up as Play Center classrooms. In a traditional kindergarten classroom, each room has its own creative play area with a housekeeping area, toys, dress up items, etc. for creative play. Since the Woodson building is a former elementary school, most classrooms are not of typical larger kindergarten size and are too small to accommodate these play areas. Presently the Play Center is housed in the gym. By providing two Play Center classrooms, there would be two well-equipped quiet play areas accessible to all classrooms and the gym would be freed up to once again be used as a gym.

3) The office complex would be moved to the main entrance area. This would provide a more secure entrance to the building and be more convenient for parents and visitors.

4) All special services would be located in the center of the school. This would include special education classrooms, two computer labs, two Play Centers, and support services like the school psychologist, school social worker and success coach.

The Critters at Woodson may be small, but we are many. Continued growth in numbers will present challenges in providing a developmentally appropriate experience for our youngest learners. Six classrooms and another set of student bathrooms will provide the facilities needed for a program that will give our children a strong start in their educational careers.

The state of Minnesota only funds a half-day kindergarten program. The Austin Public School District provides the other half of the funding to allow all students to attend a full day kindergarten program at no cost. In most communities, full day kindergarten comes at a substantial cost to participating families.