Tuesday March 26, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

WOODFORD -- A community forum inviting the public to discuss potential pre-kindergarten opportunities for children in Woodford is being held tonight and a forum for the same purpose in Pownal is scheduled for next week.

School boards in both towns have voted to explore the possibility of providing public pre-K beginning as early as this fall -- joining the other districts in Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union of Bennington, Shaftsbury and North Bennington, which already offer public pre-K.

In Woodford, the school board is considering the new program for all 3- and 4-year-olds, whereas in Pownal only 4-year-old children are being considered.

Whether the programs begin this fall may be contingent on whether start-up grant funds are available, but prior to that, both communities must do a thorough community needs assessment. Part of that process includes public forums to receive input from the community and child care providers.

"We really want to hear the opinions and suggestions from community members, board members, (and) parents about what they would like public pre-K to look like in their community. What do they feel about it? Why is it important to them, to their children, to their community?" said Karen Burnell, SVSU director of early childhood programs. "It gives us a rich community perspective of how we should proceed.


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The SVSU districts that already offer public pre-K all utilize private partnerships in which 4-year-olds may attend partnering preschool providers and have 10 hours a week funded by the school district.

Existing preschool providers may partner with the districts if they meet quality standards that require a licensed teacher at the facility and a rating of at least four out of five stars in the state’s preschool quality rating system. SVSU assists providers to meet the standards and also offers a licensed teacher to providers in lieu of tuition when needed, Burnell said.

The other option, which Arlington School District has, is adding pre-K at the elementary school.

Burnell said the community forums -- as well as capacity at existing providers -- play a large role in how districts choose to provide pre-K.

"Both the forum in Pownal and in Woodford will let us collect the data that we need. We’ll take that data, analyze it, and come up with a suggestion for each of the boards to hear and act on," Burnell said.

The districts that already offer pre-K received grant money to defray costs the first two years before the children could be counted at a full rate in each district’s average daily membership (ADM). The cost to taxpayers to operate public pre-K has been neutral in other districts once the children are counted in the ADM because of offsetting increases in state funds.

The community forum in Woodford is tonight from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Woodford Hollow School. The forum in Pownal will be held Monday, April 1, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Pownal Elementary School.

For more information, contact Burnell at 447-8419 or kburnell@svsu.org.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi