District considers changes to pre-K, kindergarten housing

Joseph Metz/The Sun
School Superintendent Kevin Kanauss gave his presentation on proposed changes to pre-K and kindergarten housing during the March 19 board of education meeting.

Superintendent Kevin Kanauss has announced projected changes to the Deptford school district housing plan for pre-K and kindergarten that will make two schools the exclusive home for each respective grade level.

Under the proposed plan – yet to be approved – pre-K students would exclusively attend Central Early Childhood Center beginning in the 2024-’25 school year, while kindergarteners would attend Pine Acres Early Childhood Center. The changes would be implemented regardless of the distance between school and a student’s home and would include special education students in those grade levels.

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“We cannot run pre-K next year without a housing plan change,” Kanauss told parents at a recent school board meeting, some of whom raised the issue of the plan’s psychological impact on students. “We have to understand that right away. Because everything I’m going to show you, show to the board, depends on space. We have to have the space.

“The reason we need a housing plan is because we need to expand,” he added. “We have nowhere to go right now. The district wants pre-K; we understand the importance of pre-K and how it lays the foundation for school. We want to keep it, but we have to do it very carefully.”

The space issue is a result of new housing that will be added in the township in the next few years to accommodate the increase in families who relocate to Deptford because of its free preschool program.

The space issue also impacts existing schools; while Central has room to grow, it’s located on Delsea Drive and near Cooper Street, two busy roadways. Pine Acres has a better location in the neighborhood of the same name, but lacks space.

According to Kanauss, if no action is taken on the projected housing plan changes, the district would have to cut the pre-K program. But if the changes are approved, 260 students would attend Pine Acres in the new school year, with 345 at Central.

There is also a plan in the works for student bus dropoffs: Based on class location, there would be assigned bus areas around each school building. The dropoffs would be 20 minutes apart to avoid crowding and students would be split into groups. Parents would get car placards in a color matching their child’s group.

“Seventy-five students will be dropped off and picked up at one time,” Kanauss noted, “versus the 147 right now.”

The pre-K Deptford program is funded by a Preschool Expansion Aid (PEA) grant from the state Department of Education (NJDOE).

“We would like to have a final decision by May 15 for staff reasons,” Kanauss said of the pre-K plan. “But this is a grant-funded program, so I’m not bound by tenured laws or staff management laws. But that’s the reality.”

Current preschool and kindergarten registration, originally set for April 1, is on hold until finishing touches are put on the housing plan. The next board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9.

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