WCS finalizes pre-K expansion plan
by Kellen Moore
Watauga County Schools will accept 36 additional 4-year-olds into the pre-K program this school year as a result of additional state funding.
With the extra $100,082 headed for Watauga County, the schools will add a full class (18 students) at Mabel, a half-class (nine students) at Bethel and expand the Valle Crucis class from nine to 18 students.
Only students with educational risk factors such as low household income, limited English proficiency or learning disabilities will be served in the program, according to Watauga County Schools. In the past, school systems had some leeway to provide pre-K for both at-risk and not at-risk students.
The additional funding is already being used in the Valle Crucis pre-K. The classroom has grown from nine to 15 students and will include three more students in January. The new classrooms at Bethel and Mabel also will open in January.
To determine which students will be admitted into the program, the school system will first offer current pre-K students at the Cove Creek site who live in the Bethel or Mabel districts a chance to transfer to the new classrooms. Staff will then contact students on the waiting lists at Cove Creek, Bethel and Mabel to fill any available spaces.
Staff plan to contact parents of children on waiting lists in December, and parents do not need to initiate that contact, according to the school system.
Watauga County Schools also is in the process of hiring pre-K staff for the Bethel and Mabel classrooms. Tamara Stamey, director of elementary education, said staff expects to present hiring recommendations to the Board of Education at its Dec. 10 meeting and have classes in operation Jan. 7, the day students return to school after the holidays.
Gov. Bev Perdue announced the infusion of funding last month, choosing to draw $20 million originally budgeted for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services that was projected to go unspent. About 6,300 additional children are expected to be served statewide.
The funding will not completely restore cuts made to the WCS pre-K program this summer. The pre-K program was cut from nine classrooms serving 162 children to five classrooms serving 90 children at the start of the school year as a result of state reductions and cuts from the regional Head Start office.
A pre-K class of nine students was restored at Valle Crucis earlier this fall, before the additional funding was announced.
With the new state allocation, the Watauga County Schools pre-K program will serve 135 children in eight classrooms at seven schools. Blowing Rock Elementary will be the only school without a pre-K classroom.
The school system is quick to warn that the budget for the 2013-14 school year is subject to decisions by the General Assembly in the spring.
“I think everyone involved with education at any level hopes the General Assembly and Governor-elect Pat McCrory will increase funding for pre-k classes next year,” Stamey said. “Expanding high-quality early childhood education is probably the single most valuable investment we can make to strengthen our educational system and increase student success.”