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Pre-K spaces limited

low-income kids get in first

July 21, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Public Schools pre-kindergarten program is suffering from not having enough seats.

According to Jill Burkhart, supervisor of elementary reading, social studies and early learning, the program - which has been expanded to 10 schools in the county - has been forced to accept only low-income students so far this year.

"At this point, we are holding the spots and making sure we serve those students first," Burkhart said in an interview earlier this week.

The restrictions are part of the county's efforts to comply with state regulations requiring districts to make available program slots to all interested low-income families by the 2007-08 school year, Burkhart said.

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The system so far has about 400 seats for its pre-kindergarten program, Burkhart said. Applications still are being accepted, and remaining slots would first be offered to students with disabilities, Burkhart said.

According to Rolf Grafwallner, assistant state superintendent of the division of early childhood development, school systems will be required to offer all students full-day kindergarten and low-income students pre-kindergarten programs by the 2007-08 school year.

Grafwallner said he has heard concerns from parents who are hoping to sign their children up for pre-kindergarten programs.

"Low-income is the requirement, but many schools bring in other kids - groups of students - who traditionally have had poor performance before they begin school," Grafwallner said Wednesday.

According to Grafwallner, research shows students from low-income backgrounds face "greater odds of doing well." Grafwallner said those students can benefit from extra time in the classroom, "so if you have limited resources, you go to the neediest kids ..."

Burkhart said in years past the school system has accepted students who were not identified as low-income.

"This year, we're not doing that. We're looking at the children who have the most need and serving them," she said.

About 380 students attended pre-kindergarten last year, Burkhart said.

In addition to the 10 sites that now offer pre-kindergarten - most are schools in low-income areas - Burkhart said the system eventually might operate cluster schools to accommodate demand and meet state regulations.

She said can empathize with parents who have called her office upset about the policy.

"I understand how people feel, I really do. I mean, it's understandable that they're concerned and frustrated," Burkhart said.

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