USD No. 113: Added SES preschool session a no go

The “experts in the field” have been tasked with determining the ordering criteria in which students are admitted to the Sabetha Elementary School state preschool. This comes following the Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education’s decision on Monday, May 8, not to add a half-time preschool teacher, thus leaving the preschool’s capacity the same as it has been.

The motion by Board President Ed Reznicek to add a half-time preschool teacher — which would have opened up approximately 12 more spots — failed three votes to four. In favor of adding the teacher were Reznicek and board members Kent Saylor and Kent Kuckelman. Opposed were board members Kathy Lippert, Jim Scoby, Leslie Scoby and Jeff DeMint.

History

At the school board’s April meeting, a request was made to consider adding a half-time preschool teacher at SES. The reason for this request was the continued increasing number of number screened who qualified for the preschool.

In the current school year, the SES State Preschool is serving at or close to maximum, which is approximately 24 students. These students serve as peer models for the SES Special Education Preschool.

For the 2017-18 school year, 34 students were screened. Of those, only four did not qualify for the State Preschool.

No qualifying student has ever been turned away from the State Preschool before, so because the preschool teachers were unsure of how to proceed they proposed adding the half-time teacher. This addition would allow the SES State Preschool to serve an additional 12 students, approximately.

At that time, L. Scoby said she had concerns that the district could be making a decision that would negatively impact Sabetha’s three private preschools — Sabetha Community Preschool, First Lutheran Christian Preschool and NorthRidge Family Development Center Preschool.

Therefore, the school board had tasked district and building administration to meet with representatives from Sabetha’s community preschools.

School district officials met with area preschool representatives on Friday, April 28. The objectives for the meeting were to increase the understanding of procedures and perceptions by all parties; learn about the program differences; identify challenges; and problem solve for cooperative opportunities.

School officials present included Superintendent Todd Evans, Director of Student Learning Jennifer Gatz, SES Principal Sara Toedman, SES Psychologist Valerie Arment, and SES preschool teachers Donna Elder and Holly Meyer.

Community preschools and those representing them included the following: First Lutheran Christian Preschool represented by Keremy Bachelor, Dwight Edelman, Denise Huning and Melissa Detweiler; NorthRidge Family Development Center represented by Amber Frey; and Sabetha Community Preschool represented by Robyn Scoby, Danielle Rebant and Jennifer Strathman.

Those present discussed challenges and concerns, how problems could be solved, and how the groups could work together in the future.

Board Discussion

At the board’s meeting on Monday, May 8, Superintendent Evans told board members that while he loves “win-win” situations, not many situations fall into that category.

Unfortunately, he said, the perception is that the public school is in competition with the community preschools. The reality is that many more families have applied for their students to attend the SES State Preschool. The fact that many students want to be a part of the school’s preschool is “a good problem to have,” and the district should be proud of the preschool program it offers.

Evans said his concern is that — even with the best intentions — some students would go unserved if the SES preschool does not expand to allow for more students. He said it is his recommendation that the board approve the half-time teacher.

Community member Marvin Kohlmeier presented to the board on behalf of the community preschools, including the First Lutheran Christian Preschool of which his wife is a board member. Kohlmeier told board members that, for 40 years, the community has been served by first the Sabetha Community Preschool followed by the additions of the First Lutheran Christian Preschool and the NorthRidge Family Development Center.

There is “just something more” that children need that a Christian preschool can offer that a public school can’t, Kohlmeier said. While he said he understands that private preschools come at a price, he said that the preschools offer scholarships so that any student could attend.

Also, Kohlmeier said, he understands that a gap was left with the NEK-CAP Head-Start left Sabetha a few years ago, leaving approximately 20 students without a preschool option. However, he feels the community preschools can fill that void if it is given a chance to “work itself out.”

If the district does not choose to add a half-time preschool teacher, board member L. Scoby asked if it is the district’s choice how to accept students — whether it has to be first-come, first-serve, or if students can be classified according to developmental need.

Evans said it is his understanding that the district needs to decide how to order them, but this has not been done in the past. Gatz noted that the SES State Preschool has not had to turn any students who qualified away in the past.

L. Scoby said her concern is that spots would be filled by students with less need, and then students with more need who apply later would be turned away.

Board member Lippert said she would not like to see the line drawn by first come, first serve, but rather by assessment scales.

Lippert said she believes some of the state developmental standards are arbitrary, and she does not believe government is here “to serve everybody, every time, in every thing.”

A student who arrives mid-term could still get into a community preschool, though, as she understands it. And, if that student needs scholarship, the community preschools offer scholarships.

Gatz said that, although those programs have scholarships available, most of them do not have transportation options, and that is something that is much needed for some families.

Lippert said that maybe a need for transportation could be included when prioritizing applications.

“We have community options, and it needs to be a public-private partnership,” Lippert said.

Board member J. Scoby said that he has a reluctance for the government entity, which is restricted on what can be taught, to be the main or only provider of preschool.

“I have a problem with the school being everything to everybody,” J. Scoby said. “And if we have some groups out there who are willing to take this on, then I am inclined to let them do it.”

Board member DeMint asked if it would be possible for the district to add the half-time preschool teacher “late in the game” — if the district does not add the half-time preschool teacher at this time but come August it becomes apparent that the community preschools are full and there are still students who need preschool. Evans said it would still be possible, but it would be far from ideal.

Board member Saylor asked what the criteria would be for ordering the preschool applications.

“If we do not add a half-time teacher, we would have to tell some children’s parents that they qualify, but they’re out,” he said. “Who is going to determine that criteria for who’s in and who’s out?”

Lippert said she believes the applications should be prioritized by the “experts in the field” — including the preschool teachers, school psychologist, principal and Gatz.

Board member Reznicek said that it appears to him that this issue came to the board because there is unmet need, currently.

“That is the point of adding a .5 teacher — to meet the need that is there,” Reznicek said.

Board member Kuckelman asked if there is physical space at SES for it.

SES Principal Toedman said there is space for it, since the kindergarten was reduced from four to three sections.

The board considered tabling the item until June, when the board will continue discussing the possibility of adding preschool at Wetmore Elementary School.

“I want to give closure to the community and the preschools and the families,” DeMint said. “I came here with one opinion, and I’ve changed positions twice just sitting here. Right or wrong, we need to make a decision.”

See full minutes from the school board’s regular meeting held May 8, and special meeting held May 2, on Page 7B of this week’s Herald. (See story here)

Amber Deters126 Posts

Amber Deters is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2005. She specializes in school board, election and legislative reporting, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Amber is a 2005 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, print journalism sequence. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.

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