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New kindergarten program aims to meet needs of students

Eureka Union School District launches two new kindergarten programs, one blended preschool program
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Don’t wait. That’s the premise of an innovative new kindergarten program in the Eureka Union School District. The program is innovative in its simplicity: If schools meet the learning needs of students now, they will be less likely to require special — and costly — services later down the line. “Rather than waiting for kids to fail and then providing support, we need to provide intervening services,” said Teri Louer, director of special education for the district. “That’s where I started from.” Louer started her professional career at a school district in a Chicago suburb, similar in size and demographics to Granite Bay. While in Illinois, she helped implement what’s called a “developmental kindergarten program.” The program, which will begin locally this upcoming school year, targets students of kindergarten age who aren’t quite prepared — socially, developmentally or academically — to succeed in a traditional kindergarten class, but are ready for more than what preschool offers. The program is a way to prevent less-prepared children from struggling in a too-advanced environment. “What ends up happening is (the child) is not doing as well, not learning as fast so they get referred to special education,” Louer said. “Instead, we’re catching them early and getting them what they need.” Granite Bay resident Kelly Powell was looking for something more challenging than the standard pre-kindergarten program for her 5-year-old son Keaton but was worried kindergarten might not be the best fit at this time. “Keaton is a very active, curious, high-energy boy,” Powell said. “I had concerns about him being able to focus and succeed in the longer day, traditional kindergarten classroom.” She enrolled Keaton in Eureka’s new program. “I thought, ‘This is exactly what we need,’” Powell said. “I love that students will be with a credentialed teacher and this is structured for students just like my son. (There) will be more individualized instruction and lots of hands-on learning.” Powell, who also has a daughter in the district, wants her son’s first experience in primary school to be positive. “My hope is that this program will give my son a leg-up by allowing that extra year of maturity in an appropriate academic environment,” she said. Under the developmental kindergarten program, the district receives funding from the state of California and parents must agree that their student will go into regular kindergarten class the following year, unless the district recommends entrance into first grade. There will be one class at each of the district’s three primary schools, which includes Greenhills School, Maidu School and Oakhills School. Each class will have between 15 and 17 students. After announcing this program, Louer said the district received several calls from parents whose children didn’t qualify — just missing the Dec. 2 cutoff date by which time a child must be 5 years old. The parents asked for a separate full-day program for these kids. So the district created a transitional developmental kindergarten program for “accelerated 4-year-olds.” Parents will pay $500 a month for this program. “We’re trying to be very creative and supportive of the needs of the community,” Louer said. The district also created a blended preschool program for 3 to 5 year olds with and without disabilities. Previously, the district paid $15,500 annually for six slots in the STAR preschool at Olive Ranch School. “I thought, well, that seems ridiculous to me,” Louer said. “Why don’t we start our own program?” The district will collect $250 a month from parents whose children enroll in the class, which will be held at Oakhills School. The more innovative a school district can be, the better chance it has of addressing the financial impact of drastic state cuts to public education and declining enrollment. The Eureka Union School District projects 3,303 students for the upcoming school year, down from 3,520 last year. In May, the district laid off 21 teachers to help close a $4.3 million deficit. This new program has saved at least four teachers’ jobs. “We’re thrilled and I think the union is thrilled,” Louer said. Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- To learn more about the Eureka Union School District’s new kindergarten programs and blended preschool program, contact the district at (916) 774-1222 or e-mail Terri Louer at tlouer@eureka-usd.k12.ca.us.