Parents of local preschoolers will have another option in September thanks to a new prekindergarten program at the Stillwater Central School District.
Starting next school year, up to 24 students will be able to attend either a morning or afternoon session for 21⁄2 hours at the elementary school, five days per week.
The program will be paid for with a $58,000 grant as part of universal prekindergarten funding through the state Department of Education.
The district will also spend $23,000 in next year’s budget for the program, according to Superintendent of Schools Stanley Maziejka.
“It provides an incredible learning opportunity for our 4-year-olds,” Maziejka said. “If you look at transitions for kids when they come to school, a lot of it is things we may take for granted and not view as major transitions.”
For example, Maziejka said, it’s important for students to learn the location of the office, cafeteria and library.
Most of the money will be spent on salaries and benefits for a full-time teacher and a full-time teacher’s aide.
The district is also required to spend 10 percent, or $5,800, of the grant money on services from an outside agency for prekindergarten instruction.
A music or art program through a local organization could be one way to spend the $5,800, according to Department of Education spokesman Tom Dunn.
Any students who live in the district and would be eligible for kindergarten the following school year can apply for the program.
That means the program starting in September will accept students who will be eligible for kindergarten in the 2009-10 school year.
Officials will hold a lottery and randomly select students if the district receives more than 24 eligible applications.
Elementary Principal John Goralski said students will learn skills like number and symbol recognition that will help prepare them for kindergarten.
“Students who learn to read at an early age are more successful at school,” Goralski said. “Basic research shows that.”
The district will apply for the money from the state annually if it wishes to continue the program in future years.
Officials haven’t finalized the location of the classroom, but Maziejka said that no elementary classrooms will be moved and schedules for special subjects will be reworked so no students or teachers will be disrupted by the new program.
Meanwhile, one local preschool owner has concerns that the new program might cut into her business.
Dianne DeMidio, the director of “Beginnings Preschool” located in the Stillwater Area Community Center, said she has mixed feelings about the new program.
“I am concerned because I believe that we’re going to be pulling from the same pool of children,” she said. “I’m anticipating lower enrollment.”
DeMidio rents a room at the community center and currently teaches 16 3-year-olds, 20 4-year-olds and 15 prekindergarten students. The new school program could draw students away from both her 4-year-old class and her prekindergarten class.
Parents pay $180 per month for her pre-kindergarten program. The school’s pre-k program would be free to district taxpayers.
“I agree it’s a great program for kids, but I do feel that my program is just as good,” DeMidio said. “I feel like I’ve been in business long enough that I don’t feel it’s going to put me out of business.”
Students who come to kindergarten from private preschools often have varying expectations for what school is like, according to Stillwater kindergarten teacher Kristi Fish.
“This will give them a nice general idea of what to expect from kindergarten, and it’ll help give them a lot of the same skills that we are looking for,” she said.
The school district also has more resources than private preschools and it can provide professional training to its staff, Maziejka said.
“While we don’t want to seem insensitive, we don’t make decisions about how our programs affect business owners in the private sector,” he said. “Our goal here is to educate kids.”
Several other local school districts have pre-k programs, including the Saratoga Springs School District, the Schenectady City School District and the City School District of Albany.
The state allocated $437.9 million to the Department of Education for universal pre-k programs in the 2007-08 school year.
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