Arizona Department of Health Services lists four operating preschools that are state-licensed to teach ages 3-4. Maricopa Unified School District wants to expand that.
MUSD started its strategic planning in August, and administration wants to have its state licensure for a full-day preschool by Feb. 1.
The district currently has a preschool at Saddleback Elementary School. It has been preparation for the larger program.
“I’m so, so excited that all the sudden something is happening,” said Pat Wilson, preschool teacher at Saddleback, who has been advocating for a full-time program.
“My hope is that this will be able to morph into a young-5’s program for those kindergarteners who are just on the cusp, that aren’t ready for kindergarten,” said MUSD Governing Board member Patti Coutré. “So then we’d have a young-5’s program so parents don’t have to pay the tuition.”
The governing board received an update on the development of the preschool at its Wednesday meeting.
“We want every student to dream, learn and become. In a practical sense, when they graduate high school, they need to be able to create, innovate, lead and succeed,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “Realizing that outcome begins in preschool.”
Krista Roden, director of Teaching & Learning, said the Preschool Planning Committee researched the community, made comparisons in other districts and surveyed Maricopa parent on whether a full-time preschool was needed.
The survey came back “overwhelmingly yes,” Roden said.
The committee worked through class space, food service and curriculum as it executed a state checklist.
“With that we know that we need to have some remodeling,” Roden said. “Very minimal. Along with that, we’re going to be doing some recruiting with [Human Resources Director Tom] Beckett coming up in January.
The district is hosting a Job Fair Jan. 26.
The plan is have a state walk-through in June in order to have three classrooms open for the new school starting in July.
The full-day program, which combines with child-care wrap-around from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., is for preschoolers ages 3 and 4 to be taught by highly certified teachers with both elementary certifications and early-education endorsements.
“It’s very, very important for us,” Roden said. “That kind of sets us ahead of the state with everyone else.”
The program expects to tout STEM activities, social development and emotional development.
“Competitive pricing is one of our sales points, as well,” Roden said, saying there are subsidies to help parents with financing.
Wilson cited early findings of an ongoing Harvard University early-learning study showing preschool leads to “greater cognitive abilities, better impulse control, more sociability.”
She also said it was early intervention for special education and drop-out rates.
“One of the charter schools has already jumped on board with this, she said, “and we need to get in the game immediately so we don’t lose any more students to any other school, including charter schools.