Board looks at adding preschool

Friday, January 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:09 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Columbia Public School District’s Board of Education is considering a proposal that would create an early childhood education program for children who have not yet entered kindergarten.

“It’s something being weighed and considered because we value those early years in childhood development,” said J.C. Headley, president of the Board of Education. “This proposal deals with a lot of issues trying to close the minority achievement gap.”

The proposal dominated the school board’s Thursday work session.

The early education task force, a team appointed by Superintendent Phyllis Chase in 2003, presented the proposal as part of its report, citing the need to maximize resource efficiency and to close the achievement gap between groups of students attending Columbia Public Schools.

According to a School Entry Assessment Project conducted in 2003, many students come to kindergarten underprepared and behind their peer group. Among Columbia Public Schools, at least 15 percent of students ranked “below average” in school preparation. That same group of students also comes predominately from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

According to the task force’s report, this early education proposal may help offset the challenges of poverty, language, disability and mobility issues among children.

“Our main focus for this plan is the ‘at-risk’ children,” said Jack Jensen, the assistant superintendent for elementary education. “They are in a certain socio-economic group and have a lot to overcome.”

The report highlighted other factors that weigh into pre-elementary education such as teacher productivity and some type of accreditation process above and beyond a standard day care center.

Title I: Schoolwide Programs, an education program that helps teach young children, is already a part of the school district. According to Jensen, there are 50 children on a waiting list to get into such programs. The proposed plan would enable the district to form more partnerships with other community organizations and help more children in the process, targeting some of the areas considered “at-risk” such as low income, ethnic or racial minorities and children with disabilities.

The Board of Education hopes to acquire the resources so more children are able to participate.

“These families want to participate but we don’t have the space, the teachers and other required resources to help them right now,” Jensen said.

Jensen and Headley agree the program is in its infancy but the idea has been well received.

Once under way, the early education program will include children who are 4 to 5 years old, or two years before kindergarten. It’s not clear when the proposal will go into action, but when it does it most likely will resemble programs such as Title I and the Parents as Teachers organization, Jensen said.

Board members still have to decide how the early education program will be funded. The Parents as Teachers program receives funding from the state and Title I receives special funding from the federal government.

Jenson said he thinks the administration has enough money to take on this project, but the conflict arises in how to prioritize the money.

Agencies such as Boone Early Childhood Partners, the Chamber of Commerce, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and others are in support of the proposal. The plan aims to work as a community to improve education among young children in order to have a higher success rate among students.

“One hundred percent success rate is a wonderful goal, but if these children come to kindergarten without the necessary skills, well, that makes that goal difficult to achieve,” Jensen said.

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