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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 27, 2014
Proposed BHCS pre-K offers early education, at a cost

by Anne Berleant

On April 5, voters will decide whether Blue Hill Consolidated School will begin serving the four-year-old population with a pre-K program.

The price tag? Ninety-five thousand dollars.

The discussion on pre-K at BHCS dates back to 2004, said School Board Chairman John Richardson, who served on a 12-member committee formed to research and create a pre-K program at BHCS.

The current proposal “is the first time it’s come up before the town in a well-organized way,” Richardson said in a recent interview that included board member Jan Snow, Principal Della Martin and pre-K community coach Chris Rudd of the Maine Department of Education.

“Blue Hill has really done it right,” said Rudd. “The programs that can struggle…are those that are hastily put together.”

The push in neighboring schools, such as Brooklin, Castine and Penobscot, to begin pre-K programs partly came from the desire to bolster school population numbers.

“The difference between Blue Hill and surrounding towns [is that] we don’t have a declining enrollment, so we’ve been able to really take our time,” Richardson said.

The benefits children receive from early education in a pre-K include literacy, social and math skills that Rudd said make for a smoother transition to kindergarten. In addition, early screenings mean early intervention on learning and behavior issues. Any special services for pre-K students are provided by Child and Family Services, at no cost to the school.

“As more and more pre-K programs are developed in Maine schools, I think people are seeing the benefit,” Rudd said.

In Maine, 207 schools offer pre-K programs out of 620 public elementary schools. Rudd, and other pre-K community coaches, offer support as schools develop programs that meet state certification requirements.

As proposed, the program would run as a full day, every day pre-K, with bus transportation. Parents will have the option of enrolling children for a half-day program, although transportation home would not be provided. The curriculum will be one developed by the Maine DOE that is linked to the common core standards adopted in 2011 and implemented in the 2013-14 school year.

The pre-K class, estimated at 10 students for 2014-15, would be housed in an existing classroom that contains an age-appropriate bathroom. Students will be given breakfast and lunch, a rest/nap time, and outdoor recreation on the K-2 playground.

The Maine DOE best practices recommends a pre-K student-teacher ratio of 8:1; state statute limits that to 15:1. The proposed budget includes an early education certified teacher and an ed. tech. III for the pre-K class, allowing for a higher enrollment than projected.

If class size shrinks in future years, the pre-K can be combined with the existing kindergarten classes, Principal Della Martin said.

The school board ran a straw poll at the 2012 town meeting to gauge the community’s feeling on pre-K at BHCS. The result was 176-104 in favor. In 2013, a motion at town meeting sought to add $60,000 to the school budget to start pre-K for 2013-14, and it was voted down 53-65.