Both the Verdigre administration and many of its parents attended Monday’s board meeting to request the Unified District begin offering preschool within the public school system as of 2017-18.
Verdigre has had a private preschool for 26 years, Principal Chuck Kucera said. Nan Kienow will be retiring from her longtime role as an educator after this year and has spent the last 20 years at Kids Corner Preschool in Verdigre.
Kucera commended Kienow for her dedication and skill and also thanked her for all she’s done for education. He said with Kienow’s retirement, it was vital for the district to step up and offer the same education options for Verdigre youth as it offers those in Orchard and Clearwater, which has preschool at both site locations.
“Nan’s retirement is a catalyst for this change,” Kucera said. “Regardless of what the board decides, this is her last year teaching preschool. Out of fear of losing preschool, we’re asking that the preschool be absorbed by the public school and be made part of the Unified District. It’s a nice time for the transition to be made.”
Several parents from Verdigre shared concerns with the board from the educational and social skills potentially lacking without a preschool to having to choose another district for preschool and possibly losing students to a neighboring school as a result.
Denise Vanburen, who has two young children, reminded board members that preschool offers early intervention with learning disabilities that can save the district money in the long run, as well as improving the transition from preschool to kindergarten by streamlining curriculum and improving communication between the teachers.
“We’re here in support of the preschool to let the Unified Board know how important the pre-k program is,” she said. “When people are here, it shows they are passionate about this. When you open up kids looking at other districts, they might continue sending their children to that district after preschool. If you lose one student, that’s one student too many.”
Kienow attended the meeting and said parents would like to to see more classroom time than the three hours a day for two days a week currently being offered. She also suggested hiring an aid to assist because issues do arise that can take away from the other students.
Currently, Kids Corners allows students who turned 3 by March, making it a mix of mostly 3- and 4-year olds. Superintendent Dale Martin said the Unified District offers only 4-year-old preschool (turning 4 by July 30).
Kucera said looking at birth through age 5 census numbers, Verdigre “numbers warrant a half-day preschool for one session.” He said there are currently 14 kindergartners with following years showing 11, 11, 17 and 9. He said there are currently seven youth in the district age 0-1.
Martin told the Unified board he is “not apposed to this at all. It makes sense, and the building is set up for it.” Martin inquired about meeting the other state regulations for preschool, and Kucera said the district would have to fence in part of the playground for the preschool, but the district already meets all of the other requirements.
Should the district move forward with the preschool, Martin said they would have to decide whether or not it’s a Head Start preschool, which follows different financial guidelines for families. Neither Clearwater nor Orchard are currently Head Start, and Clearwater Principal Mike Sanne told the board he recommends not being associated with Head Start in Verdigre.
Though no vote was taken, Unified Board members spoke favor of the preschool, and member Terri Hergert from Orchard stated, “It’s hard to say no when we have it.”
The board agreed to consider the move and will place the item on a future agenda. Among the more detailed information requested was for Verdigre to look at current staff endorsements for teaching preschool and salary requirements for the teacher and para.
The Unified Board will meet again on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.