Quick turnaround on expanded preschool program

After July notice from state, full-day classes began on Monday.

JONATHAN DIAZ/The Sun:
The township board of education presented an overview of the new, expanded preschool program, initiated through $1.5 million in grant funding.

The township board of education shared a presentation of the school district’s expanded preschool program at its regular meeting on Sept. 27.

The program – which began on Monday – is funded through the state’s Preschool Expansion grant, which awards districts on a XO competitive process based on their application outlining programs that adhere to the High Quality Preschool Guidelines. The district sent notice of funding in July.

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School superintendent Dr. George Rafferty explained that the program requires an invitation to apply for the state grant.

“It’s not something you can just apply for and be awarded,” he said. “(District) actually have to be invited to apply. We were notified around 4th of July week that our district would be eligible to apply.”

The district received a notice of approval from the state on Sept. 8, nearly three weeks before the kindergarten program got started. Rafferty said despite the fast turnaround, the district will ensure all required programming is up and running, as was required on   Oct. 3.

The district received $1.5 million in state funding to provide age-eligible 3- and 4-year olds with a full day of high-quality preschool programming. The 2021-’22 school year saw nine preschool classrooms in half-day programs, compared with 16 classrooms that are  running full-day programs this school year.

Mridula Bajaj, assistant superintendent of curriculum, noted the program will have a creative curriculum that promotes exploration and discovery as a way of learning.

“When we think about preschool, we wonder, ‘Does preschool have a curriculum?’” Bajaj  said. “Yes, we will have a curriculum. The state has four approved curriculums, so we decided to go with the creative curriculum, which is rated as one of the top ones.”

The school days for the program will run for six hours, as mandated by the state. Children enrolled in the program will learn about confidence, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. The curriculum also aims to build a classroom culture, with teachers and students working on greetings, asking open-ended questions and participating in activities that promote foreign language. 

Danielle Stuffo expressed gratitude to curriculum supervisor and new principal of Fleetwood Elementary, James DeSimone, for submitting the grant application. She also thanked all staff involved in getting the program ready to open. 

“Mr. DeSimone, thank you so much for submitting that application in such short notice and putting it together, because I know you worked so hard to get us approved,” Stuffo said. “Thank you to everyone else who helped get this program started. 

“It’s amazing – you’re moving our district to a new level of learning and we’re so thankful for it.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 18.

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