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August 29, 2013

New Pre-School Program Offering Starting Point for Students and District

Pre-school is designed to provide a head start for students before they reach school age. One could say the new Scotland County R-I pre-school program is doing the same thing for the district, providing a sneak peak at what a fully integrated program may look like some day.

When pre-school opens August 27th, 24 children ages three, four and five, will become the inaugural class for the SCR-I pre-school. Three years ago the district began providing early childhood special education services in-house. The federally reimbursed program provides the opportunity to fund an integrated enrollment with a one to one ratio of special education students to non-special education students.

After proposing the creation of an integrated program, a committee of current and past educators, child-care providers and parents was formed by the district to develop the inaugural offering.

"Basically it boils down to the fact that we want to offer this program and ultimately we have to find a starting point," said Superintendent Ryan Bergeson. "We are going to see how it works and then we are going to work to make it better."

Initially the program will be offered in two sessions, Monday through Thursday. Eleven students will attend the morning session from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thirteen students will be in the afternoon session from noon to 3 p.m. Transportation is provided but there are no meals, just snacks.

The key to the new system is the integrated programming.

"The goal is to get as many kids as possible kindergarten ready," Bergeson said.

The committee agreed that meant expanding preschool to non-special education students.

Special education director Erin Tallman noted that integrated programming benefits students across the board, both special needs and non special needs and has proven to be more productive than non-integrated offerings.

For the first three-years of the in house program, the district was only able to serve students with identified developmental delays in motor skills, communication, social or emotional adaption, or cognitive delays.

With the success of integrated programming, federal funding changes allowed the 1:1 programming change.

But with the expansion, came the first huge hurdle for SCR-I to clear.

"We have run out of space," Bergeson said. "We hope to be able to house the program on campus, but right now we have had to look elsewhere."

Enter the First Baptist Church. The district has reached a lease agreement with the facility to house the program in 2013-14, with at least a second year highly likely.

"The church has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help us offer this program," said SCR-I Elementary School Principal Nathan Pippert.

Tallman added that the facility proved to be the least restrictive option for the district, with its proximity to the campus offering the best access to resources while limiting transportation needs.

The second issue the district had to handle was enrollment. With just 12 spaces open in the integrated program, administrators were forced to host an enrollment lottery, to pick the 12 participants from 33 children initially enrolled.

"It's not a perfect answer, but we are serving more students that we were before," Bergeson said. "This model is the most cost-effective way to serve the greatest number of students."

If the district was to exceed the 1:1 ratio it would have to do so at a 100% cost to local funding. Under the existing program, the pre-school is 100% reimbursable through federal programming, which means the district will receive federal aid to pay the two pre-school teacher positions as well as for two teachers' aides.

The lone cost of the program is a $35 monthly fee paid by each student for materials and supplies.

That likely will have to change if the district hopes to ultimately bring the program on campus.

At the September Board of Education meeting, the school board will be hearing from a pair of financing experts to discuss bonding and other financing options.

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