PARIS — A $1.2 million grant will allow the School Administrative District 17 preschool program to expand from two or three days a week to five days.
“I think it is the right direction,” SAD 17 Director Jared Cash of Norway said of the three-year pilot program. “Absolutely, the children of this community need this.”
SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts announced the grant at last week’s Board of Directors meeting. The grant is part of a $14.8 million award to the Maine Department of Education from the U.S. Department of Education to support the expansion of preschool access in the state.
The district is now looking for students who wish to access the five day a week program (see criteria below) and believe there is a strong need.
SAD 17 currently serves 140 students who attend preschool either two or three days week in four classes in Norway, Hebron, Waterford and West Paris. Five other classes — one in Norway, two in Paris and two in Oxford — are run by Community Concepts, which follows the Head Start model.
While the SAD 17 programs are school-based and do not currently provide social service or home visits, the Head Start model includes home visits, access to to social services and program specific expectation. The Head Start model targets at risk children based on income, while the SAD 17 program has no income restrictions.
The $1.26 million grant will allow the same number of high risk students, 140, to access five day a week preschool programs in an attempt to meet a long-term goal of providing full-time preschool programming in the district.
The grant supplies enough money for classroom teachers and ed techs, staff to support the home-school collaboration (a family service advocate), professional development (coaching) and administrative support.
It also pays for resources such as research-based curriculum materials, instruction supplies and furniture and equipment.
While the grant would provide enough funds to underwrite three years of expanded programming, it does not guarantee any funding beyond that time, Colpitts said.
Public preschool programs are eligible for subsidy through the state’s Essential Programs and Services (EPS) funding, which begins after the first year of program implementation. The state has had preschool in its funding formula since 1983.
Colpitts said the district is attempting to align grant applications, such as the full-time preschool funds, with the district’s long-term goals.
“Our hope to have long-term preschool. This is an opportunity to provide it, but there’s no guarantee at the end we can maintain it,” Colpitts said.
While SAD 17 directors appeared to support the initiative, questions arose about how to finance the program after the grant runs out and what, if any, adverse effects there would be if the district can not financially sustain the program.
SAD 17 directors such as Cash and Judy Green of Waterford say it’s imperative the district implement the full-time program and continue to fund it.
“It can make an incredible difference,” Green said.
Colpitts pointed to other grants, such as the $1.2 million federal Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant, which paid for a wide range of health and physical education equipment such as heart-rate monitors, in-line skates, weight-lifting equipment, mountain bikes and more. The money eventually ran out, but taxpayers continue to support maint
aining equipment and activities in the budget.
“If the community values it, you fund it,” Colpitts said.
SAD 17 preschool history
In Maine, public preschool is voluntary. Districts don’t have to offer it and parents don’t have to send their children.
But when the preschool first came to the Oxford Hills School District in 2007, educators and parents jumped at the chance, believing it was the pathway to academic and social success as students transitioned into kindergarten.
“(Principal) Karen Ramharter went from yard sale to yard sale to find preschool furniture,” Colpitts said of the first year.
The program began in partnership with Community Concepts in 2007, with two classes opening in Paris Elementary School. It grew to include preschool programs at the Oxford Elementary School, the Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway, the Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and Waterford Elementary School.
Getting a head start on academic and social skills will provide students with a jump ahead as they start their kindergarten through grade 12 experience, educators say.
At the Rowe Elementary School preschool program, for example, teachers Elizabeth Caron and Caroline Leonard take more than a dozen preschool children through daily learning lessons that teach them everything from how to draw numbers, to learning to raise their hand to ask a question, to being considerate.
Even unexpected events, like the discovery of a tick on the school room floor and the subsequent “capture” of it by Caron on a piece of tape, becomes an opportunity to teach.
“If you see a tick in the classroom or on your body, it is very important you tell a teacher,” Caron tells the children, some of whom are excited about relaying their own tick stories to their classmates.
Maine’s Early Learning and Development Standards, a revision of the state’s Early Learning Guidelines, were issued in March and make it clear that critical development of skills and knowledge occur during children’s preschool years.
The document recognizes a multi-dimensional approach to early learning involving family, school and community. Today, nearly half of Maine public elementary schools offer quality preschool programs, according to the Maine Department of Education.
District releases criteria for registration
PARIS — The Oxford Hills School District is currently accepting registrations for the SAD 17 pre-kindergarten classrooms for the 2015-16 school year.
SAD 17 and local Head Start programs are partnering in a three-year pilot to offer a free, high-quality, comprehensive preschool program to children in the district who turn four by Oct. 15, 2015.
Next year’s programs will operate five days a week, all day, to better serve students. The district pre-kindergarten classrooms are located in Hebron Station School (Hebron), Guy E. Rowe School (Norway), Oxford Elementary School (Otisfield and Oxford), Paris Elementary School (Paris), Agnes Gray Elementary School (West Paris) and Waterford Memorial School (Harrison and Waterford).
The following eligibility criteria applies:
• Children must be four years old on or before Oct. 15 (child must be born between Oct. 16, 2010, and Oct. 15, 2011).
• Families must include copies of their income. Priority will be
give to families that meet the income guidelines. All families are encouraged to apply.
• The child’s original birth certificate.
• Proof of residency (driver’s license with school appropriate address, lease or rent agreement, utility bills or mortgage agreement).
• Immunization record and record of the child’s most recent physical exam (well child).
• Any legal documents involving custody issues.
Parents should call Marjorie Scribner at 743-8972 or stop by the Oxford Hills School District superintendent’s office, 232 Main St., South Paris, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to pick up a registration packet.
A lottery will occur if there are more applications that meet the criteria for available slots. In order to be considered for the first round of selection, all applications need to be submitted by Friday, May 29. Priority for placement is given to families who meet the income guidelines and reside in the town where the program is offered. Parents will be notified in mid-June about enrollment status.