2017-05-11 / Front Page

Biddeford schools approve pre-K programming

By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Biddeford’s youngest students will have the opportunity to attend pre-Kindergarten classes in the fall, the School Committee decided Tuesday.

The committee unanimously voted for parents to send their pre-Kindergarten, or pre-K, students to classes for 2 1/2 hours each day, with the option of enrolling them in a morning session running from 9:45 a.m. to noon, or an afternoon session from 1:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Students coming in the morning will be fed lunch, and those attending in the afternoon will receive snacks, said Lindsey Nadeau, early childhood coordinator a John F. Kennedy Memorial School, which currently serves kindergarten students.

Biddeford School Superintendent Jeremy Ray said in March the proposed $35.7 million school budget includes the hiring of two pre-k, one pre-Kindergarten educational technician, or ed-tech, and one English language-learning ed-tech.

Ray said the budget will allow for the creation of three pre-kindergarten classrooms that will serve 96 students. Up to 130 students may be served with the addition of a Head Start pre-K program established within the Biddeford School District.

Per state law, pre-K classes must include one teacher, one ed-tech and no more than 16 students. Ray said there would be three classes in session both in the morning and afternoon through BSD.

Head Start would hold three classes of its own, and is looking to add an additional round to accommodate the total desired number of students, Ray said.

School officials said the need for a pre-k program is apparent based on initial kindergarten performance. With a year of schooling under their belts — focusing on social, cognitive, self-help and gross motor skill development — officials say kindergarten performance indicators would be above where they are currently.

Nadeau said only 54 percent of incoming kindergarten students in Biddeford are coming in prepared for kindergarten, compared with national numbers. During a second evaluation held in January, about 70 percent of students were above national statistics.

“We’re excited to see where they might be with pre-Kindergarten,” Nadeau said.

Ray added that 47 students out of the 185 kindergartners in the district knew five or fewer letters of the alphabet upon entering school this year.

“That’s more than a quarter of our students coming to us at the Kindergarten level who aren’t ready,” he said.

Concerns were raised over transportation of students. The proposed school budget includes more than $200,000 for generation of a pre-K program, including the purchase of two new buses with safety harnesses, plus $40,000 for transportation.

It was also proposed to bus the pre-k students, who would be four years old, into school for 7:45 a.m. start time with the kindergarten students, who are transported with students up to fifth grade. The afternoon group would be bused home with the same students at 2:15 p.m.

Ray said he did not like the idea of busing four year olds with older students.

“Scenario 1 would cost less,” he said, although, “we have a hard time thinking that we’re going to put a four-year-old on a bus with the rest of the population.

“We also think that loading process in the morning time of putting a young kid on the bus needs to be slower,” he said. “It takes us out of that rush of people trying to get to work on time. That’s a big decision.”

Committee member Lisa Vadenais voiced her support of the pre-k program, and said she supported busing the students as long as there are aides to assist the young students.

“Coming into kindergarten knowing just a few things is beneficial,” she said.

But committee member Tony Michaud expressed concern over the number of available student slots because the 130 available isn’t enough to cover all potential students in the district.

Ray, responding to Michaud, said capacity shouldn’t be a problem. He said not all parents will sign their children up for the program, and that some students may attend pre-k programs in other communities where their parents might work.

“I would suspect there would be very little turn-away,” he said.

Parents interested in enrolling their children in pre-kindergarten classes may fill out a one-page application between now and June 5. Students must turn four years of age before Oct. 15 to be eligible. A lottery will be held on June 7 and notified that week; screening will take place from Sept. 6 to 14.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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