School districts that want students to learn earlier how to count and identify letters are offering preschool programs to ensure students are better prepared for kindergarten.
Johnson County has about 50 preschools, but parents don’t always know what preschool program is best for their children or where they are. And school officials said they have struggled to give recommendations to parents looking for preschool options.
That’s especially true in the southern part of the county, which is why Johnson County Learning Centers partnered with Edinburgh and Franklin schools this year to create preschool programs for students in both districts.
Johnson County Learning Centers plans to continue and possibly expand its program at Franklin, but Edinburgh schools will take over running the preschool at East Side Elementary next year. Interim Superintendent William Glentzer said having the school district manage the program will ensure students are better prepared for the expectations of Edinburgh’s kindergarten teachers.
Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools also announced this month that the school district wants to partner with an area preschool to offer a pre-kindergarten program that would be located at one of Indian Creek’s schools. The school district needs a preschool because currently teachers and principals don’t know of any local programs they can recommend to parents, Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said.
This year, Edinburgh and Franklin are the two Johnson County school districts with preschool programs for students in their school district.
Edinburgh’s program is free for students, and Franklin’s program is free to students whose families qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch programs. Other Franklin families can enroll their students for a fee.
Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools all have preschool programs that are exclusive for students with special needs. School officials from all three school districts have said they’re interested in working with local preschools to see how to better prepare students for kindergarten, but currently none of the school districts has plans to start a program.
Both Edinburgh and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson are determining how to pay for the programs as well as how many students they have room for and what their parents could be asked to pay.
Glentzer wants to continue paying for the program with money Edinburgh receives to educate students from low-income families. But that’s federal money, and he said he isn’t sure yet how much will still be available because of the sequester on federal funds. Edinburgh school officials currently are deciding who will teach the preschool program next year, whether they’ll come from in our outside of the school district, and how many classroom assistants will be needed, he said.
Parents who enroll their children in Indian Creek’s preschool program would likely be charged a fee. Prusiecki would prefer the program be free, but his first priority is creating the program and ensuring more students can master the lessons of kindergarten.
“We don’t want to pass the costs off to parents; however, at this point that’s what we have to do,” he said.
Currently about one-third to two-thirds of the students who attend kindergarten at local schools aren’t prepared because they haven’t been taught how to recognize letters or put them together to form words. They also don’t know how their teachers expect them to behave in a kindergarten classroom, school officials said.
Enrolling more students in a preschool program before kindergarten will help ensure they’ve started learning the basic skills needed for reading and math, according to Glentzer and Prusiecki.
“The quicker that you can begin teaching a structured environment for learning, the better the habits of learning are developed,” Prusiecki said.
He is now collecting bids, including lessons plans, from prospective preschools and plans to make a recommendation to the school board this spring so the program can launch in the fall.
The only likely expense for the school district would be building space and utilities, Prusiecki said.
Edinburgh’s school board approved taking over the preschool at East Side this week. Currently the preschool serves about 40 students — 20 in the morning and 20 in the afternoon — and Glentzer said enrollment numbers should remain the same next year.