Wednesday, March 22, 2017

All Systems Go: Preschool Moves forward

Over spring break, Mr. Schlatter, Mr. Wagner and I made a case before the School Budget Review Committee (SBRC) to be permitted to utilize a portion of our reserve funds for start up costs associated with the statewide voluntary preschool program (SWVPP). It was a very interesting process to be sure, and at one point all agreed that we were in a 'Catch 22'. The fact is, both the state department of education and legislature have lauded the value of preschool programming, particularly with regard to the benefits for emerging readers. However, the only way Hudson would have been be able to implement the program would be to use existing funds; which is a prohibited practice. Fortunately the SBRC approved our request so that we can move forward without committing an illegal act. Another bit of good 'spring break' news from last week was the House passing two flexibility bills unanimously, which will grant school districts greater flexibility in categorical funds. Specifically included in this legislation is permission to use funds for preschool programming. The bills now move to the Senate where we expect them to gain approval and ultimately move to the governor for his signature. 

That  means planning for implementation this fall is now moving quickly. On Monday morning, Mr. Schlatter and I met with our AEA consultant and participated in a conference call with the Iowa Department of Education. The purpose of that meeting was to clarify some items in our preschool plan and receive guidance for moving forward. In that phone call, the Department gave us informal approval to proceed with planning and implementation. There is a lot of work that needs to be done prior to the start of the new school year! Then on Monday night, the Board of Directors gave instructions to begin the search for a preschool teacher. That position has subsequently been posted and can be found here

Our journey to begin a statewide voluntary preschool has been simmering on the back burner for a couple of years now. Conversations within my administration over the last several years have always included the need and desire for a preschool program, but the mechanisms for implementation just didn't exist (because of that Catch-22). That simmer became a slow boil over the course of the last 12 months, particularly over the summer and early fall when the number of parent requests began to spike. New families moving into town just didn't understand why Hudson schools was one of the few districts in the state that didn't have the program--of 333 school districts in Iowa, 322 operate preschool programs. Further, Hudson was/is the only district in Blackhawk county without the statewide voluntary preschool program.

You all knew that, and you know the reasons why. But again, to re-emphasize our arguments for this program: the needs of our school district have changed in the intervening decade. For starters, we are currently in a position where we are sending a van load of preschool students to Evansdale every day. These young residents of Hudson must attend a preschool with a licensed teacher because of the IEP that administers their learning program. The fact that we have to send these students outside their home school district because we didn't have a program was not only a thorn in my side, but not a very efficient way to allocate resources.

Yet the reasons for implementing a statewide voluntary preschool program extend beyond those already mentioned. A big focus in elementary school is teaching kids to read. In fact, when analyzing instructional time, we find that instruction related to literacy is the largest continuous block of time in the schedule. Our state legislature has further reinforced the importance of reading with legislation in 2013 that requires all third graders to be proficient by 2017 (now on hold because of funding), or face retention.

So it would stand to reason that early intervention in the form of a preschool would provide the proper vehicle to help meet these needs. Here's why: A study of the Arkansas preschool program found that students who attended the preschool program were less likely to be retained in third grade as opposed to those who didn't attend preschool. And an Iowa study found similar results:
"The number of students proficient in early literacy skills upon kindergarten entry is increasing. In the fall of 2014, 53% of kindergarteners were proficient on the FAST assessment. In the fall of 2015, the percentage increased to 64%. This is indicative of quality literacy instruction in preschool being intentionally embedded into classroom curricula, routines and activities." (From Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program Fact Sheet produced by the Iowa Department of Education)
There are roughly 2,000 days from the time a child is born to the time they enter kindergarten.  In that period of time, the brain develops more rapidly than any other time, and as such during that time the brain is forming the neural pathways that enable it to learn and grow (See early childhood Iowa for more information and for sourcing of this information.)

The benefits to starting a statewide voluntary preschool program are numerous and we have highlighted a few of them here. We are grateful of the support and advocacy from our parents and community members who assisted in this endeavor. If you, or any of your neighbors or relatives are interested in enrolling your child for the Hudson preschool program please contact the elementary office at 988.3239 as soon as possible. Space is filling up fast!

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