The Crookston School Board will have their next meeting on Monday, February 24, and at that meeting, one proposal they will be getting updated on is offering five-day preschool for four-year-olds.
Crookston Superintendent Jeremy Olson said the option converts the current four-day full and half-day program to five days a week if adopted. “We’re excited to be studying the possibility of moving to five-day programming for our four-year-olds,” said Olson. “Right now, we have four-day programming all day or the option for half a day. The proposal that is going before the school board, while we don’t have everything fine-tuned, will be looking at a five-day option with an additional option of half days. So, five-day with full days or five-days with half days, so that parents get to choose which option or program better suits their students.”
If the school board were to enact the proposal, Olson said it would only be for the four-year-old program, directly preceding enrollment in kindergarten. “We’re only looking at the option for four-year-olds,” said Olson. “Three-year-olds would remain the same as it is this year. Our focus, through our world’s best workforce planning, has been on getting students kindergarten ready. As we look at kindergarten readiness skills, that’s more tailored toward a four-year-old program. And when we say four-year-old, that’s really before kindergarten. So, four-year-olds, and five-year-olds that are not currently in kindergarten that are getting ready and prepping for kindergarten.”
A change like this comes with variables that need to be addressed. One of those is prep time. Under a four-day program, the teachers can do all their prep work on the fifth day. Olson said that is the first of the hurdles the five-day program would have to address. “There are various issues that we need to look at, such as the teaching contract,” said Olson. “Making sure that we get enough prep time for teachers in a five-day model is important. So, we’ve been engaging our preschool teachers in that conversation. We’ve got a couple of ideas on how to make that work, but that would be the first hurdle we need to look at. How do we meet the needs of our teachers’ number one but then number two, making sure we fulfill the obligations under the teaching contract? And then, we also need to look logistically. What does this mean for us? Does this mean we’re going to need to have another section because, obviously, adding a fifth day does help some parents with their schedules that may want to put their kid into preschool programming? There is a lot of factors to consider as we look at this option, though we do believe this is right for our kids and families as we try to get our kids kindergarten-ready.”
According to Olson, the five-day program has become a possibility because of a change in prekindergarten funding for the school district, which has enabled the district to receive additional funding than what they previously received did making this a cost-effective preschool option for families. “It’s been a very interesting process,” said Olson. “We have moved from School Readiness Plus, which is how we were funded previously, to VPK (Voluntary Prekindergarten), voluntary preschool programming. In the switch to VPK, we able to qualify for more students (for funding). Even though we had the same 40 available seats as School Readiness Plus, we were able to qualify more under VPK and used those seats to get more funding. By moving to VPK, we were able to get additional dollars for our program, which is allowing us to offer extended programming and to expand our program. The charges, the billing out to parents, are at a much-reduced cost compared to what it actually costs for preschool programming. So, trying to find a way to keep this affordable to families has been a priority. Obviously, with the additional funding, it’s making an opportunity for the district to expand.”
The rates for preschool are determined on the sliding scale on income qualification for free and reduced lunch.
- Full: $500 for half-day, $1,000 for full-day
- Reduced: $250 for half-day, $500 for full-day
- Free: Free for both the half and full-day
Additional scholarships are also available for preschool through an application process from Pathways and VPK. Information on the scholarships is available through the school district.
Olson said while he hasn’t had direct feedback, he has received indirect input shared by staff about a five-day program being a perceived need in the Crookston community. “Not directly,” said Olson. “Indirectly, the staff at Washington School have reported that we’ve had parents that have been excited about the program and the possibility to move to a fifth day. We’ve heard from several of our staff who’ve had community members mention they wish we had a five-day program. So, we’re looking at this as an opportunity to meet the perceived needs of our community. So, yeah, we’ve gotten some feedback from our community, but it’s all been indirect. I can’t say I’ve had anyone come sit down and talk with me about this.”
Olson said the goal is to give parents options, and that a five-day program was a reality the district has been wanting to reach. “We’ve talked about it at a few different venues,” said Olson. “Last year, when we were talking about the expansion of preschool from a half-day program to giving a full-day option. I want to emphasize that this is about giving parents options, not taking anything away. What we’ve been doing is stepping up the program. You have the option of the half-day program. We’ve added now another option for full-day programming. Now there won’t be an option for four-day programming. It will go to five-day if the proposal is pushed forward. We’ve talked about this as something we want to make a reality, but if you’ll remember, last year at this time we were going through a fairly large red budget and couldn’t afford to make the step forward on full-day programming and adding the fifth day all at once. We just couldn’t make that happen financially.”