Plans are on the table to expand and renovate the Scott County Preschool, which has led Superintendent Dr. Kevin Hub to toss out an idea to the school board.
Expanding preschool to include more students and the district cover the costs with board approval.
“I thought we are thinking about a renovation and expansion project at Scott County Preschool, and when we start looking at what that project looks like, I think we will have enough capacity to offer tuition-free preschool for those students who don’t qualify otherwise,” Hub said. “Will it be true universal preschool? Probably not. I don’t think that we will recommend an expansion to the preschool that will offer tuition-free preschool to every 4-year-old in the community.
“But I think a good start is if there is a common-sense approach to the expansion that will yield extra classroom space and capacity, why wouldn’t we offer it to our children?”
Currently, 3-year-olds with a developmental delay or a disability qualify for the county preschool tuition free, and any 4-year-olds with those qualifications and meet family size or income qualifications can attend preschool. The Scott County Preschool had 327 students enrolled this year, with 218 of those for developmental delays or disability, and the rest under income eligibility.
County preschool Principal Jennifer Walrod is a supporter of expanding preschool.
“What the vision is and what I believe is going to be best for the community is that all 4-year-olds will be able to attend Scott County Preschool whether they qualify or not,” she said. “The reason is that preschool gives students a chance to learn how to participate in a school setting and group activities, follow directions and have access to a preacademic, literacy-rich environment.”
Hub pitched the idea at the last school board meeting because the district will have to cover the costs as the state does not cover preschool.
“There will be an expense for new staffing, but I’m hopeful and confident the General Assembly at some point will give us some general fund relief,” he said. “There are three big areas outside SEEK where districts are supplementing state funding — preschool, all-day kindergarten and transportation. If we get relief from any of those general fund line items that will give us money to set aside for 3-to-4 teachers and 3-to-4 aides at the preschool. And I believe the people in the community understand the pot of money used in renovation and expansion is separate from the pot of money to supply the needed additional staff.”
It is an expense both Walrod and Hub believe is worth it.
“There is this whole idea of kindergarten readiness, and my belief is schools need to be ready for children, and children need the social skills to participate in the learning environment,” said Walrod, noting this is where preschool comes in.
“That is the best way to get ready to learn to have academic and social and adaptive skills. It makes it easier to learn because they know what is expected or how to ask for help or problem solve. The expectations of kindergarten is higher now and there is so much curriculum that has to be taught it requires more time than learning those social and adaptive schools.”
“I think it is important to consider what we can do at the beginning of a student’s career so they can be successful. Like a lot of superintendents in Kentucky, I am not satisfied with the data when it comes to kindergarten readiness,” Hub said.
“Much of the data indicates our students who are not in our preschool are less kindergarten ready than students that are in our preschool. That’s not saying children and families not in our preschool are not doing what they should be doing. It’s more of a function of the assessment that we get.
“If we can have more of those students in our preschool we think it will increase kindergarten readiness, and the more prepared they are for kindergarten the quicker we can get them to our goal of being on reading level by grade three.”
Adding more preschool students will not increase SEEK funding, Hub added.
Neither Hub nor Walrod believe that expanding preschool will take away from some of the private preschools already open, but they are hoping this will include some of those students who are just above the financial requirement but can’t afford a private preschool.
“There is this gap of children whose families don’t meet the income eligibility, but can’t afford a program. That’s the kids we want to make sure we are getting,” she said.
She also thinks ultimately expanding preschool would save the district money.
“We are getting those children earlier and the services and teaching they need, and they may not need special education later on,” Walrod said.
If the board approves the project and expanding preschool, it would still be fall of 2021 before the new students would be in the new space.
“We don’t want renovation and expansion to in no way minimize or delay other projects the board is considering, principally Cardinal Drive, elementary school 10 and middle school 4,” Hub said. “But the project is so beneficial and we are fiscally strong enough that I think we can do it sooner than later.”
At a recent principal’s meeting, Walrod said one principal told her the preschool is making a difference.
“It is more social skills,” she said. “They are able to walk away from mom, sit and participate. And because they have those social and adaptive skills, their gains are going to be higher and reach third-grade reading level faster.”