PHILLIPS — A Regional School Unit 58 pre-kindergarten program could start as early as September 2015, adding to the the expanding number of Maine school districts investing in early childhood education, officials said.
In April, the RSU 58 school board prepared its 2014-15 budget, committing $30,000 to start preparations for pre-kindergarten classes in Phillips, Kingfield and Strong. Because the district has so many income-eligible students, the Maine Department of Education encouraged administrators to apply for a share of federal grant monies that will fund the programs in Maine.
Strong School Principal Felecia Pease organized several community information sessions in October to hear concerns and suggestions from parents, day care providers and private preschool program providers.
The district also sent a questionnaire home with students, soliciting parental input. Administrators hope for a robust return on responses by Dec. 12, according to Cynthia Dixon, Superintendent Erica Brouillet’s administrative assistant.
The questionnaire also can be printed from the district’s website, www.msad58.org, and returned to one of the three elementary schools by that date. Whether or not the district receives federal funding through the state Department of Education application process, the school board can start 2015-16 budget calculations with input from parents, community members and taxpayers.
Funding would allow the district to hire staff and enroll 4-year-olds by September 2015. Highly qualified staffing is a requirement of any pre-kindergarten program, according to Brouillet.
“There must be two adults in each program,” she said. “Each of the three teachers must have special certification in early childhood education.”
Also, teachers will have support services of three highly trained educational technicians. Other requirements focus on the children’s safety and social and physical needs.
Transporting students would require buses to be retrofitted with seat belts, but grant monies could pay for that cost. Breakfast and lunch would be provided through the food service program and served family style, with two adults present at the table.
Students could be introduced to various school routines, including physical education, music, art, library services and other skill-building activities that help them to enter kindergarten on an even playing field, according to Brouillet.
Classrooms must meet specific space, safety and lighting standards for the 4-year-olds, she said. Grant recipients must guarantee a minimum of five days per week for students and must ensure that child care providers, child development services, Head Start, Franklin County Children’s Task Force and other child service providers are involved.
Jaci Holmes, the federal-state legislative liaison for the Maine Department of Education, has been part of the team of state and local administrators applying for federal funds. Monies will go to parts of the state that need it most, she said. Pre-kindergarten as a goal for each school district is not new, she said.
“Over the past 36 years, we have approved 206 classrooms,” she said. “Of the 184 school administrative units with kindergarten programs, 118 of those have pre-K programs.”
One third of those programs, she said, have partnered with an established early childhood program in their community, including Head Start and private day care programs.
Stratton, Livermore, Jay, Farmington, Wilton and New Sharon have pre-kindergarten classrooms. Holmes said school districts will receive the same types of financial assistance as children in grades kindergarten to 12. The district’s administrators are responsible for ensuring students and teachers are held to the same high standards as other students in the school district.
The state’s Essential Programs and Services funding formula will reimburse the district for tuition costs, as they do for all Maine students, she said.