GTPS announces preschool expansion, lottery for open seats

Additional $4 million in funding will mean 240 new spots 

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun

Gloucester Township Public Schools announced the expansion of its preschool program earlier this month after receiving approximately $4 million for the 2020-2021 school year.

According to a release from Superintendent John Bilodeau, the district will be able to offer full-day preschool to 400 3- and 4-year-olds through a recent expansion for the upcoming school year, more than double its previous enrollment.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Timothy Trow, the district received funding in the range of $1.5 million at the beginning of the current school year, which was used to add six additional classrooms.

Previously, the district was able to accommodate approximately 135 4-year-olds and 45 3-year-olds in its full- and half-day preschool programs.

The additional $4 million for the district’s preschool programs will be used to further upgrade facilities for those programs at the Erial and Chews elementary schools, while also making modifications at Glen Landing and Ann Mullen middle schools to make hosting full-day preschool possible. Blackwood and Union Valley elementary schools will also have preschool programs.

At a board meeting earlier this year, Bilodeau discussed the notion that although placing preschool programs in middle schools may be unconventional, the administration believes it is the best option moving forward for Gloucester Township Public Schools.

Specifically, Bilodeau cited overcrowding concerns if other elementary schools were utilized for preschool programs.

“Our schools, notably the elementary schools, are full to capacity, so as far as any available rooms that would be there for additional expansion of preschools [programs], we were limited,” he said.

Prior to the start of the 2020 calendar year, engineers and architects visited the various school buildings, according to Bilodeau, to develop the plan which will now be implemented after having received funding; expert assessments determined that the smaller wings of the two middle schools would be best ideal for being converted into preschool areas.

According to Bilodeau, the preschoolers will be very much apart from middle school students in both buildings.

“The [preschool] students will be separated physically from the general population,” he added. “They are also on separate bus rides. So it’s not that we haven’t thought it out … There will be physical barriers that will also be installed.”

During a September board of education meeting, Trow said the district considered moving some fifth grade levels in elementary schools to one of the middle schools in order to further expand preschool programs at said elementary schools. But he acknowledged such a change would have created more problems than the current plan.

“Preschool is virtually self-contained: They eat in their classroom, they don’t go to specials … It’s a completed self-contained program the way the state of New Jersey has the curriculum set up,” Trow said.

“So in many ways, it was easier to put Pre-K in the middle schools. One of the initial thoughts was what if we moved fifth grade to open up rooms in the elementary schools? Believe it or not, that would create more staffing issues.”

Due to increased interest from parents that is greater than available seats for the program, the district will host a lottery for the 40 open seats for 3-year-olds and the 200 open seats for 4-year-olds.

Residents can apply by filling out the online form at www.gloucestertownshipschools.org or by calling (856) 224-1400 ext. 2401 and leaving a name and phone number. Lottery entries must be submitted by Sunday, April 26.

Additional information regarding the program and the lottery can be found in a FAQ form on the school’s website.