SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The South Kingstown School District is attempting to increase access to preschool for all children in town.
The South Kingstown School Committee received an update on the town’s integrated preschool at last week’s school committee meeting.
Coleen Smith, early childhood coordinator for the district, and Christine Levy, assistant pupil personnel coordinator, spoke about the district’s initiatives to provide access to preschool for all school-aged children, which began in fall 2012.
Smith and Levy presented child outreach data, which documented 3- and 4-year-olds in the town and the percentage of those children that attend preschool.
According to Smith and Levy, 87 percent of 3-year-olds in South Kingstown attend preschool or daycare. The same is true for 93 percent of 4-year-olds.
They survey also found that of 217 kindergartners screened, 23, or nearly 11 percent, did not attend preschool.
Smith and Levy said there is concern that some of these students may not have access to preschool and thus may be behind their fellow students when they enter kindergarten.
One reason why certain students may not be able to attend preschool is they have no means of transportation to get there, a concern previously raised by the school committee.
Smith and Levy said this is something the district is working to address.
Other next steps include educating parents and guardians in the district about early childhood development and the importance of kindergarten readiness.
Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said the district’s survey of kindergarten and preschool age students found that many children in one neighborhood couldn’t afford to attend private preschool.
“We’re working with the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Department of Children, Youth and Families to monitor and make sure the district is in compliance with Rhode Island’s early learning standards,” Stringfellow said. “We hope to make certain that all youngsters are ready for kindergarten.”
Currently, there are five preschool classrooms at the South Kingstown Inclusionary Preschool on South Road. A large percentage of special needs children are enrolled in those classes, according to Stringfellow. This year, the ratio is seven special needs children to eight children without special needs.
Stringfellow said next year the district hopes to serve more community children by adding a preschool classroom at South Kingstown Inclusionary Preschool, to bring the number of classrooms to six, and reduce the number of special needs children per class to five, making the ratio closer to what is encountered in older grade levels.
In September, there will be two classrooms for 3-year-olds, two classrooms for 4-year-olds and one “intensive” classroom.
Adding a classroom costs about $75,000, according to Stringfellow.
“The priority of this is to be in compliance,” she said. “We’re not adding more money to the budget, just utilizing it in a different way.”
Stringfellow stressed the importance of children attending preschool.
“Youngsters need to go to preschool,” she said. “The academic or social gains will have them be more prepared to excel in kindergarten.”