2014-10-24 / Community

District addresses state’s pre-K plan

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — All public school districts in Maine are required to offer a universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, according to a Maine Department of Education revision that was introduced in April.

Assistant Superintendent Katie Hawes explained Monday night what that means for RSU 21.

The Department of Education is a suggesting a phase-in model, Hawes said, but how phase-in models will be subsidized in districts across the state is still being discussed.

Similar to the commission that was drafted to work on educator effectiveness, the DOE has organized a commission to help implement the pre-K program by looking at things like “funding and regulatory requirements and standards and so forth,” Hawes said.

The Maine Center for Education and Policy sent a survey to superintendents, who will distribute it throughout the district to gauge the need/space for pre-K programs.

“There are currently 200 public preschool programs in Maine. Nearly half of Maine’s public schools offer pre-K programs, and almost 42 percent of Maine’s 4-year-olds are enrolled in public pre-K programs,” Hawes said.

Hawes proposed “that a district committee be formed in the spring of this year to begin to set the stage for regular work next year toward analyzing the logistical, fiscal and programmatic aspects of what a pre-K program might look like in RSU 21.”

“There are a lot of things to consider: space, certainly, is a consideration; half day versus full day; special education and what does that look like,” Hawes said.

The district is currently corresponding with local preschool and daycare providers and “working to build bridges.”

For example, Ryan Quinn, principal of Kennebunk Elementary School, helped organize a district team that will study “the new early learning and development standards and we are planning an outreach event for local daycare providers and preschools to help them understand the early learning standards that are expected of prekindergarten.”

That work will be done in conjunction with the district’s work for the Literacy Maine Initiative, another community outreach program to benefit early childhood literacy.

Said board member Lionel Menard, “To the extent that the state provides adequate startup funding for public preschool programs for children 4 years of age, that’s a big “if” right there.”

Quoting from DOE standards, Menard said. “A school administrative unit that does not have a public school program for children 4 years of age, may develop ...”

The law, Hawes said, is that, “We may develop it now and they will provide us with some funding. The requirement (which was adopted in April) is for the 2018-2019 school year.”

For districts that want to start piloting pre-K programs as part of the phasein process, Hawes told the board that Commissioner James Rier “has earmarked quite a bit of funds” for those schools.

“What does this mean for school construction? What does this mean for space? What does this mean for funding? All of those are questions that they (the DOE) will need to begin to tackle,” Hawes said.

Board member Susan Sinnott-Curran spoke in favor of the mandate, explaining there is no Head Start program offered to 4-year-olds in the district.

The levels and requirements for kindergartners around the state are different. Because kindergartners enter school with varying levels of education, Sinnott-Curran said, it’s hard for students without pre-K to begin learning at the same level as a student who attended pre-K. Because of this, some “are falling behind as soon as they walk in the door,” Sinnott-Curran said. Kindergarten standards are closer to what first-grade standards used to be, “and if you don’t have your basic 1:1 correspondence, your 1:1 matching, your ABC knowledge, your shape knowledge, your number knowledge beforehand, which are things that happen in preschool, then you’re behind.” A pre-K program would actually save money in the long run, Sinnott-Curran said. Because the “earmarked” start-up money will be parceled on a needs base, board member Jeff Cole said, “We won’t see a nickel of that in this community.”

Cole reiterated Menard’s point: “It’s not that we shall provide pre-K, it’s that we may. And that’s all subject to whether the state is able to meet grant funding,” Cole said. “There are a lot of conditional statements to the law that don’t necessarily compel us to do this, if indeed there are financial implications that are challenging for us.”

“We have a diminishing demographic for which programming may or may not be required,” Cole said.

Superintendent Kevin Crowley said, “I think this is a train that’s coming at us. I think it’s going to come, I think we’re going to have preschool, and I think we’re going to be very fortunate that we have some classrooms in this building (Kennebunk Elementary School) that can be utilized for a preschool.”

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