The Saugerties school system is hoping to begin a full-day pre-kindergarten pilot program in January for nearly 50 kids. A $170,000 grant from the New York State Education Department would be used to start the program in two of the SCSD’s four elementary schools. The pilot program is planned for the Lawrence M. Cahill and Mt. Marion elementary schools, and students living within those attendance boundaries would be eligible for it.
The district is seeking the grant for a program that would serve 34 four-year-olds in two classrooms and 14 three-year-old students in a separate classroom. Last month, the school board said it was seeking the state grant.
“It is our hope that this program will help our students with the greatest needs to become better prepared to enter kindergarten and to succeed in school,” said deputy superintendent Lawrence Mautone this week. “These slots are not for current kindergarten students.”
The pre-K curriculum would be overseen by Dr. Olanike Audu, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, assessment and data, as well as by other organizations in partnership with the district. Mautone added that the district plans to use the High Scope curriculum, based on the principles of early-education experts Jean Piaget and John Dewey.
High Scope is aligned with state Common-Core goals in the areas of approaches to skills, physical development and health, social and emotional development, communication, language, and literacy, plus knowledge of the world, said Mautone. “In addition, we plan on using Handwriting Without Tears, a program with proven success that provides a flexible, play-based curriculum that offers a full pre-writing program and materials that build critical skills like early math and literacy. It includes three programs designed to prepare children for school: Readiness & Writing, Language & Literacy, and Numbers & Math.”
The plan is to give priority placement to students who are economically disadvantaged, are English language learners, and/or who have been determined to have disabilities that do not require them to receive a higher level of care than the school program can provide, Mautone said. The program would have a daily schedule with weekly theme-based adjustments, with a balance of child-initiated and teacher-initiated activities over the course of a day. Classrooms would include numerous learning centers.
School officials are still awaiting word from state. While the pilot program would be funded through the rest of the present school year by the grant, the program would have to be funded subsequently for it to continue.
“Success for the first year would be to be awarded the grant and get our three classrooms established and up and running serving those students determined to need the program the most,” said Mautone. “To monitor the overall program we plan to have monthly meetings among the providers of our programs to assure consistency across our classrooms in use of curriculum and materials, sharing of best practices, to evaluate the quality of our early childhood programs and [to] identify staff training needs.”
Input from the parents of students in the pre-K program would also be a vital part of determining whether the program is a success, with home visits, visits to the classroom, and parent workshops all under consideration.
Data on parent opinions will be gathered, and parents will be provided with evaluation data. “Parents will be surveyed at least annually, and results will be reviewed by the pre-Kindergarten team and district administrators in order to revise and improve programs and procedures,” said Mautone. “Resources will be provided to help parents understand the developmental milestones of children in this age group, and parents will be given access to reports of student progress.”