As most readers are aware USD 290 is participating in the redesign of Kansas schools. Over the course of the past few months I have written six articles explaining the process we used to determine our participation and goals, what those goals are, and taking a deeper dive into what standards based grading and a more flexible schedule for students might look like in our district. With the next couple of articles I will begin to outline the third goal in our redesign initiative: birth to pre-k programming.

USD 290 and the State Board of Education agree that one of the most impactful opportunities for our youth is to provide access to schools at an earlier age. In our district the barriers to families’ abilities to provide or access educational supports is profound. The spectrum of abilities of Kansas youth range from students coming into kindergarten already knowing how to read on one end, to students who have not yet been exposed to letters or even showcase the ability to verbally communicate on the other. In part this gap exists because not all families have equal access to the knowledge, facilities, or even the financial supports to be able to provide equitable pre-k education for their students.

We began looking to redesign our system, our birth to pre-k programming was an area that quickly shot to the top as a major priority for our district. As we investigated our current practices and our future desires, we recognized three areas that we identified within our strategic plan for improvement. Those three goals include expanding the current option to a full day option, redefining our instructional approach, and developing individual plans of study for all of our pre-k students with their parents.

As an example, in working with local industry leaders regarding workforce development they identified that the city of Ottawa has a number of industries that employ shift workers and that USD 290s daily scheduled impacted their workers adversely at times. The current scheduling for preschool in USD 290 has our kids starting around 8 a.m. and finishing before noon, and a second wave of students coming in shortly thereafter and dismissing around 3 p.m. If the parents of these students are working shift positions it becomes very difficult to manage transportation and day care needs, especially if communication devices are not allowed by employers during the shift. The result is that many of these families choose not to send their kids to preschool (or according to local employers possibly choose not to work), not because they do not feel it is important to the growth of their child, but because managing those transitions becomes extremely difficult. This is merely one example of the difficulties some of our parents face along with financial barriers, lack of knowledge or understanding of the program, etc. etc. as indicated by only 55 percent of kids age three to four attending pre-schools across the nation.

To try and diminish some of these barriers, or to remove them altogether, we are looking to do a couple of things in the next few months and into the next few years. First, we are working with local groups to determine the needs of our community and identifying program needs as we begin to make changes. We will also be looking into a full day option for four-year-old students that would allow parents to leave their students in school for the entire day if they need to (this would not be mandatory if parents still wanted a partial day option). Another portion for improvement will be looking at providing a communication program that would allow for further supports for students with identified needs, and the expansion of our preschool facilities at Garfield to create equity amongst school programs and lessen transitions for our students.

The above are the expected actions for the first indicator in our goal to improve preschool programming. Next time I will dive deeper in the other two indicators (instructional programming and individual plans of study). If you have any questions about this goal, our redesign initiatives, or any of our district process please feel free to reach out to me at cobbsr@usd290.org.