Early childhood programs might move to Field Elementary

Sunday, August 31, 2008 | 7:59 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA ­— Columbia Public Schools administrators have begun conversations with early childhood education programs about the possibility of the programs moving into the Field Elementary School building.
The site would house early childhood programs that are currently spread throughout the city. The building might include both district-run and nonprofit organizations. Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said he is consulting the directors of early childhood programs and expects to form a committee to make plans for the building in September or October.
Once the committee is formed, it will come up with recommendations for the school board. The specific responsibilities of the committee have not been determined. They could include a recommendation for programs to be included, organization of the building, a building name, and any construction required. The school board will make all final decisions.
“It will be a place where early childhood services come together in one location so that families can access these types of services without running from one place to another all over town,” Jensen said.
Proposed organizations were notified through informal conversations of the possibility of their programs moving to the Field building. Other organizations can still make requests to the committee once it is formed.
Title I Preschool, a federally funded program operated by Columbia Public Schools, works with children ages 3-5 on developmental skills and is one of the potential programs that could move to Field. Right now, it offers a half-day program throughout 12 schools in Columbia for free to students who are developmentally delayed and at-risk children. If Title I were located in the Field building, then those students would no longer attend class at participating schools. All Title I Preschools would not be relocated to the Field building. All plans for the building are still tentative.
“It will continue to be distributed through the schools, but we will be able to pull some of those classrooms into Field Elementary,” Jensen said. “Crowding in our school buildings is a real issue, so if we’re able to open up a classroom or two, like, for instance, at Derby Ridge and take those preschool classes to Field, that gives Derby Ridge room to grow.”
Meanwhile, representatives from prospective programs said they were excited by the idea of having a central location.
Phil Peters, executive director of First Chance for Children, said having one location would make it cheaper and easier to communicate with parents and colleagues.
“We would be very interested in having our offices in a central location to improve childhood education,” Peters said.
First Chance for Children is a nonprofit organization that provides free services for families and helps create community awareness about early childhood education. The program works to prepare parents with high-risk children for elementary school. First Chance for Children also administers state funding, including scholarships for training and grants for caregivers.
Parents as Teachers Director Belinda Masters agreed.
“Having an Early Childhood Center has been a dream of the early childhood program coordinators for a long time,” Masters said. “Having a central location will benefit parents as they access a variety of early childhood services as well as for professionals from the three different early childhood programs to be able to work together to best serve parents with young children.”