Families with four year olds may have a new schooling option for their children in the fall of 2016. The school board has begun discussing the possibility of offering a public pre-K program in RSU14. “We’re in the exploration phase, trying to learn about some of the options and what that might look like,” said Superintendent of Schools Sandy Prince.
A committee has been formed to examine the idea. State of Maine Department of Education Early Childhood Specialist Sue Reed brought a presentation to the committee examining the benefits and advantages of public pre-K, as well as next steps.
The committee will meet throughout this year, and then bring a recommendation to the board. Prince said he is hoping to have that recommendation by the spring so the school board can vote on whether or not to pursue the idea. Currently, a letter of intent to explore the idea has been submitted to the state, with the idea that there might be a program next fall, said Prince.
The biggest question right now is to decide on what kind of program would be recommended, as there are many possible models to examine, including partnering with Head Start or community based programs.
There is space for the program at Raymond Elementary School, and though the district must put up the money for the first year, Prince did not think that would be a barrier to the program. The program would be open to the whole district, though there is no specific plan on how enrollment would be handled at this time.
One thing that Prince emphasized is the importance of working with already existing preschools and nursery schools to educate them on the initiative and make sure they don’t feel blindsided by it. There will also be opportunities for the public to weigh in.
The timeline is flexible, and although right now they are thinking about Fall 2016, it could be delayed another year, said Prince. Top priority right now is learning about the different models, choosing a couple of options, and presenting those to the community for feedback.
Prince said, “I see it as a wonderful opportunity. I’d love to see it universal at some point in time, but I don’t think that’s going to happen right off.” The earlier you can start with students, he said, the better. Getting children used to going to school, being with peers, and understanding what school is all about gives them a jump start when they come into kindergarten, he added.
“They’re so curious at that age. Why not nurture that?” said Prince. He says he sees offering public pre-K as a win-win situation.
Marge Govoni, chair of the school board, agrees. She said she is pleased and excited that the school board is looking into this possibility. “We have underutilized space in some of our buildings and this would also be extremely beneficial in helping our four year olds come into kindergarten better prepared. This could be a win-win for all concerned,” she said.