Sullivan County ready to launch self-supporting pre-K program

Rick Wagner • Jul 3, 2013 at 10:20 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — If you offer a fully paid pre-kindergarten program, they will come.

With apologies to those involved with the movie “Field of Dreams,” that describes the philosophy of a new Sullivan County schools initiative.

Discovery Learning Academy is proposed to fill a demand for pre-K programs at some area elementary schools.

The county Board of Education Monday night voted 7-0 to approve the start-up of Discovery Learning Academy at up to three county elementary schools — but only if there is enough demand to make a critical mass for the program.

The program would be completely self-supporting and serve students who turn 3 or 4 by Aug. 31. The cost would be $500 a month for a 5.5-hour program starting at the same time as the regular school day and a $590 program running from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

It would use a certified, pre-K-endorsed teacher and, in most cases, a teacher assistant to meet state adult-pupil ratios with standards based on state and national core curriculum.

The program is proposed for Miller Perry, Rock Springs and Central Heights elementary schools and will start in August if enough paying customers sign up, the BOE decided in its vote.

Carol Briggs, coordinator of pre-K for Sullivan County schools, said that based on survey results, Miller Perry is poised to have enough support for the program, and Principal Angie Baker wrote a letter supporting the proposal.

Briggs said Central Heights has about one-third of the necessary support, but the surveys haven’t been out as long there.

In Rock Springs, she said, there is more interest from Eastman Chemical Co. employees in the 7:30-5:30 program.

Briggs said self-supporting meant that every expense related to the program would be covered by the charges.

“We’re just trying to fill a need that’s been requested,” Briggs said of parents, grandparents and guardians seeking education-oriented child care. “We try to put them in the school where the child is going to go to kindergarten.”

Each longer-day program needs 20 students, Briggs said, while the shorter-day programs could work with as few as 12 because no aides are required before and after the regular school day. She said hybrid classes with the shorter and longer day also could work, depending on the numbers, and that waiting lists would help those looking for slots and give the programs financial stability as students might leave the program.

She said past experience is that pre-K students grow familiar with the school, principal, teachers, staff and cafeteria, so they are ready to learn when they hit kindergarten.

Six county schools have a needs-based pre-K program but are capped at the number of children who can be accepted.

For instance, she said Ketron Elementary has 25 eligible children ready to enroll but only 20 slots. She said the system is seeking any available excess needs-based pre-K slots not being used. Tennessee gives out a limited number of the slots, which carry state reimbursement. The other schools with those grant pre-K programs are Bluff City, Blountville, Rock Springs and Holston elementary schools.

January will mark the county’s 15th anniversary in the pre-K program, which started in 1999 with a pre-K pilot program at Valley Pike and Emmett elementary schools. Valley Pike has since closed as a school, and Emmett absorbed those students.

For more information, contact Briggs at carol.briggs@sullivank12.net or (423) 538-7526.

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