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Early childhood cabinet seeking funding from Willmar School District

WILLMAR —Willmar’s Early Childhood Cabinet is asking the Willmar School Board to approve some funding for their efforts to help all children be ready for kindergarten.

Members of the cabinet spoke at a board meeting Monday about their plans to get rid of an early achievement gap for children from low-income families.

They also outlined how the school district could help reach even more children by providing some sustaining funding.

No decision on the funding was made on Monday, as the meeting was a workshop session and no formal action was taken. Board members did not discuss the funding request.

“All of our kids deserve to be ready,” said Patti Dols, a cabinet member and retired educator. By age four, kids from poor families can be as much as 18 months behind their affluent peers, she said.

Studies have indicated that half of the students heading to kindergarten are not ready, she said, and the goal of the cabinet is to have every child ready before starting kindergarten.

The Cabinet is a collaboration of Willmar Community Education and Recreation and United Way of West Central Minnesota. The cabinet’s funding comes from state funding, local funding and a state scholarship program in addition to a variety of grants.

Its programs include organized pre-school programs, work to provide academic programs for use by home day care providers and some on-site preschool programs in apartment buildings. Cultural liaisons work with the programs to improve communication with Somali and Latino families.

The Children’s Cabinet spoke with the board about providing assistance with the programs, because the grants it has received are one-time funding.

The overall cost of the school readiness programs and Children’s Cabinet expenses if about $485,000, said Steve Brisendine, director of WCER.

Dols said the effort to prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten will need help from the school district and other partners if it is to succeed. She estimated that about 100 children are still not being reached by pre-school programs in the community.

She suggested several funding levels: $199,000 to maintain current programs; $338,000 to add enough staff to add a section of pre-school and expand services enough to reach 64 more kids.

Other partners may be able to find ways to reach even more children, Dols said.

After the presentation, board member Jackie Saulsbury asked them how they would organize early childhood programs if they were moved from the Jefferson Learning Center to each of the district’s elementary schools.

The board is discussing ways to reorganize and expand its facilities, and one of the ideas is to move early childhood programs into elementary schools.

Brisendine and Jodi Wambeke, early childhood coordinator for WCER, said their programs would change with a move.

“We do a lot of teaming,” he said, and that would change with a move.

“We would have to dismantle and rebuild,” Wambeke said. “That’s not always a bad thing.”

While it’s a good concept, she said, there would be a lot of adjustments to make.

Board Chairman Mike Carlson asked Wambeke to research other districts that have pre-school programs in their elementary schools and to report back to the board.

The board has scheduled a special meeting for noon March 6 to discuss school facilities.

The board also listened to a presentation from its lawyers about the roles and responsibilities of board members. It was offered as a training session for board member Laura Warne, who joined the board in January, and a refresher discussion for other board members.

The discussion covered the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, following the proper chain of command and running efficient meetings.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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