PORTLAND — The School Department will hold two community meetings to gauge public support for continuing the city’s five public preschool programs.

Preschool programming in the schools district began in 2011 after a community task force set a five-year goal of offering universal access to quality public preschool education to all 4-year-olds.

There are now five pre-kindergarten classes in four locations: Riverton Elementary School, Portland Arts and Technology High School, Longfellow Elementary School and at Youth and Family Services.

While there are not preschool programs at every public elementary school yet, the ultimate goal of the program is to have an opening for every child by the 2016-2017 school year.

The community conversations will be held Jan. 17 at 3:45 p.m. at Riverton Elementary School, 1600 Forest Ave., and Feb. 28 at 3:45 p.m. at Portland Arts and Technology High School, 196 Allen Ave.

Dawn Carrigan, principal at Longfellow Elementary School, said there are two primary reasons to have a conversation around preschool education.

“The most important reason is that Portland Public Schools is committed to partnering with the community to develop and expand preschool programming in the city, so we want to make sure that all of our partners are a part of the conversation and involved in the process as we go,” she said.

“(The second reason is) it’s a really horrific budget year in terms of priorities and we’re trying to determine where to put the limited resources we have and we want to hear what the community has to say about that.”

She said that this year grant funding helped to strengthen the existing program. One of the goals of the community conversation is to show the public what has been done with that money and to garner support for maintaining current programming, with the hope of expansion.

“We’re really looking for public support for continuing as this is a priority (for the district),” Carrigan said. “There is enormous research that supports early education leading to long term success. We’re looking to continue the dialogue with the community and providers to ensure that we can work together to ensure that all four-year-olds in the city have access to a preschool program.”

She said that one of the major benefits of providing pre-kindergarten education to children is that it gives them a significant head start when they get into kindergarten, where common core standards are “very high.”

“We know that the earlier we are able to work with children, the more potential we have for long term success,” said Carrigan. “The results we have seen in the first trimester (this year) are absolutely amazing, so (we know) that is going to give us a big, giant step up when these kids enter kindergarten because they are much more ready.”

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.

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