The Columbus City Schools may turn to outside partners for help expanding pre-kindergarten classes. Alison Holm has more.
The plan to expand pre-kindergarten surfaced last spring, but the committee studying the proposal moved to the back burner as the district dealt with the scandal over attendance-scrubbing. It resurfaced last night, and superintendent Gene Harris hinted it might become the focus of a much-needed levy campaign. Harris says pre-K could be key to improving the district's continuing academic issues.
Being able to read at grade level by *third* grade is considered a crucial benchmark in education, and under legislation passed in Ohio last year, is essential for students to move on to the next grade. Harris admits that currently, only 40% of Columbus City Schools third-graders pass the reading proficiency test. Harris says the committee studying the proposal saw clear evidence that pre-K classes can help close that gap.
Harris: 89% of the students who had been in Columbus City Schools pre-K needed no intervention. At all. Whereas 34% overall of the students coming into kindergarten in Columbus City Schools need intensive intervention. And we believe that by expanding high quality pre-kindergarten services that our students will not only be ready for kindergarten but that we can hang on to some of those skills and they will be on target as they matriculate through the early grades.
Currently the district serves about 20% of the possible pre-K student base, with 33 regular classes and 58 special needs classes that are mandated by federal law. Harris and the committee set a goal of serving 50 percent of the population -- a goal she told the board will require partners.
Harris: That partnership model could occur in two ways. One, where we are actually bring the partners into our schools. For example, we do have both CDC/Headstart and the Urban League/Headstart who have classrooms in our schools right now. So that's a partnership in the building. Those partnerships could also be out in the community, in facilities that our partners have.
Harris says the committee found that some of the potential partners in the expansion plan will have to up their game.
Harris: We really need to work on phasing in teachers in the partner programs that have degrees and licenses. Four year baccalaureate degrees and teaching licenses. In some of our early childhood programs -- in some of the *partner* programs -- that is not a requirement.
The board was largely receptive to the idea. Vice President Shauna Gibbs says she'd like to see specifics on funding, but thinks the proposal is crucial to closing the district's achievement gap.
Gibbs: I believe that early childhood education is not an option, it is absolutely essential and critical to the success of children. it's more than Sesame Street, it is more than a few good toys that you give kids at Christmas. It takes a very specific and a very well defined curriculum to help children learn and develop to the highest of their capabilities. And I believe that this plan that is laid out provides more opportunities for more families to access that.
Superintendent Harris says the district could fund an additional 18 pre-K classrooms, to serve 400 students, by suing grant money coupled with other reductions in the budget. But she cautioned that pouring more money into pre-K would require cuts to other, less successful programs. and she says she wants to talk to staff in those programs before putting forth more concrete plans for pre-K.