Monday, December 08, 2014
C. J. Huff blog: The public is demanding that we expand our pre-school program
When I arrived in Joplin in 2008, I met with the Board of Education as a team for the first time in July or August to discuss their vision for the future of the district. One of the key points that was made by the Board of Education at the time was the need to expand our preschool program. Seven years later, the Board of Education’s commitment to expanding has remained unchanged.
The work to research and expand the preschool program began in 2010. In order to gauge community support for this expansion, an extensive phone survey was conducted of our Joplin patrons. The following question was among the list of questions asked of the community that helped guide our efforts:
“Another issue that the school district has been dealing with is the growing demand for preschool education programs. Right now, the only families who are eligible for preschool through the school district are those children who have special educational needs. If the district were to propose a plan at some point in the future that would expand this program to all families, generally speaking, do you think you would strongly support it, support it, oppose it, or don’t know/not sure/would need more information?”
The community’s response to that question was an overwhelmingly strong endorsement for the expansion of our early childhood program....82% of our community supported or strongly supported expansion of our preschool program, 8% opposed it, 0% strongly opposed it, and the remainder indicated they weren’t sure or needed more information. There is no mistaking it. The need existed prior to May 22, 2011 and most certainly the need exists now.
Monday night the Joplin City Council is considering using federal disaster funding to support the construction of a preschool in Joplin that would be a permanent educational facility in our community with the capacity to serve 300 children in the morning and 300 in the afternoon. It is Joplin Schools’ belief that this project not only supports the direction given to us by the community in 2010, but also the future direction in the recovery of Joplin.
If I were to boil this conversation down into a few key points it would be these:
It has been said many times in the last few years that we want to grow Joplin. Attracting new families is necessary to grow Joplin. That will not happen without new jobs, new housing, and high quality educational facilities that can support children of all ages. The Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce developed the Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative to attract and retain jobs in this area. The City of Joplin approved the JHAP loan program to create housing opportunities to attract new families to Joplin. And Joplin Schools is doing its part to support this effort.
In the Joplin community, screenings indicate 60% of incoming kindergartners do not have the necessary basic skills to be successful in school.
Years of research demonstrate that the first five years of a child’s cognitive and emotional development establish the foundation for learning and achievement throughout life.
Other than the Cerebral Palsy of Tri-County Webb City Development Center and the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, Joplin Schools is the only provider in Joplin to provide services to children with significant disabilities. There are roughly 3,500 children in Joplin under the age of 5; 12-15% of these children are special needs children with varying degrees of disabilities in need of services.
Because of our disaster, Joplin Schools’ preschool program is housed and operating in temporary FEMA modular units behind McKinley Elementary. With the support of the City of Joplin, we have an opportunity to build a permanent facility at no cost to our patrons.
The primary purpose of the proposed facility is to provide a half-day preschool with a highly effective written curriculum taught by highly qualified certified preschool teachers. The daycare component (75 in the morning and 75 in the afternoon) is only available to children who are enrolled in the preschool so they have someplace to go the other half of the day and to siblings of these children. The daycare fees will be comparable to local private daycare centers.
There will be no impact on the district’s operational budget. All operational costs (staff salaries, facilities maintenance, utilities, etc) will be covered by state and federal funds and supplemented with fee-for-service tuition-based students. Our current preschool program operates in this manner at this time.
In short, we want to support Joplin’s growth by providing a high quality, comprehensive preschool experience to our most vulnerable children. In doing so, we have an opportunity to give these kids a head start on their road to a successful educational experience. We are excited about the long-term potential benefit our community can provide to our children.
Until next time,