Kim Jordan, a Kindergarten teacher at Coffin School in Brunswick, reads to her students in the fall. Brunswick is launching a pre-K program at the school next fall. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — A new public pre-kindergarten program launches at Coffin School next fall with spots for 30 Brunswick 4-year-olds, district officials announced Monday.

The program launch is expected to cost around $260,00, which includes salaries for a teacher and educational technician, supplies, furniture and other enrollment-associated costs, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said. The Maine State Legislature has provided start-up funding in the state budget for public school districts to begin new or expand preschool classrooms. When it comes to funding from the state, Perzanoski said in the fall that it is better to “strike while the iron is hot.”

“The state will reimburse you in the same fiscal year, and we wanted to get started now so we could possibly be grandfathered in” for more funding when they expand in 2020, he said Monday.

Perzanoski feels confident the program is needed in Brunswick. 

“It allows us to build relationships with the families earlier, prepares kids for the school environment, which can be hard to adjust to,” he said in the fall. Perhaps even more important, public pre-K allows economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities to start early and be on the same playing field with their peers, he said.

“Four-year-olds are very different developmentally than 5-year-olds,” said Carrie Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at Coffin School. Thomas and Kim Jordan, another kindergarten teacher, said in the fall they were excited about the possibility of public pre-K in Brunswick.

“By the time kids reach Kindergarten they have had varied experiences,” Thomas said, and those are significant enough that it can present challenges when teaching. While not all kids will go through the Brunswick pre-K, it would give teachers a better idea of what many of their students have learned and where they are with their social-emotional skills.

It would also help make the start of the year easier if most of the kids already knew how to sit during story time or line up. The first six weeks of school are devoted to procedural lessons, Thomas said.

“I spent an entire lesson on how to use glue,” Jordan added.

Aside from teaching the students time limits, flexibility and school routines, it would also level the playing field for students with disabilities and who may not have enough money for private pre-K, they agreed.

The cost of tuition has remained a barrier to many low-income families trying to enroll their children in many existing private pre-K programs. For example, at the nonprofit Family Focus learning centers in Bath and Brunswick, pre-K tuition for children not subsidized through state or other programs ranges from $108 for up to 19 hours of programming, to $203 for 45 or more hours of programming.

Pre-K programs through Brunswick Parks and Recreation for residents range from $122 a month for a two-day-a-week program to $302 for a five-day program. That price increases for non-residents.

Yet, a pre-K education would be a boon for many students from low-income families. According to a 2018 report from Educate Maine, “If all Maine students had full-time early education from birth to kindergarten, over 1,000 more economically disadvantaged students would graduate from high school.”

An earlier report said that 71% of Maine school districts offered public pre-K in 2017, with a goal of 100% by the end of 2019. This is a dramatic rise from 2008, when it was offered in only 24% of school districts. Comparatively, only 40% of four-year-olds were actually enrolled in public pre-K, with a goal of 64 percent by the end of this year.

A pre-K committee formed at the beginning of the year and is still working to iron out some of the details, Perzanoski said, such as determining whether students will have “specials” like art, music and gym. Transportation is another factor to be considered, though for next year’s program, students will ride the existing Brunswick school buses, and will sit in the front.

Perzanoski said that the timing for the announcement is less than ideal (the decision was ruled by the budget process), as many parents may have already signed their kids up for a private pre-K or daycare program, but that he is confident all 30 spots will be filled.

A 2018 community survey designed to gauge Brunswick families’ interest in a pre-K program garnered 189 responses, which Perzanoski said is consistent with grade level cohorts and is about what they anticipated. Results showed 91 percent of respondents were interested in pre-K and 89 percent who said they plan to enroll their children in pre-K. The survey also showed the people were more interested in a five days-per-week program. It has not yet been determined what the program at Kate Furbish might look like.

Some local private daycares have expressed concerns that a public pre-K might be a detriment to their businesses. Perzanoski said in the fall that the school district wants to “engage them in the conversation” and figure out a way that they can co-exist peacefully. For example, he said, perhaps students could spend half the day at the school and half at facilities like Learning Land Nursery School or Family Focus. These conversations, so far, are being handled by the pre-K committee, he said.

The program will include two full-day sessions, each for two days per week (Mondays and Wednesdays for session one and Tuesdays and Thursdays for session two). A third, targeted session of “additional intervention” for 15 of the 30 students will be Fridays and will focus on services like speech and language or occupational therapy. All three classes will run from 8:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Kids must be 4 years old on or before Oct. 15, 2019 to qualify.

Children will be selected through a lottery after an application and screening process. Parents interested in enrolling their children in Brunswick pre-K program are asked to fill out an application by June 21 and bring the paperwork, along with a copy of the child’s birth certificate, immunization records, proof of residency (a utility bill will suffice) and a free and reduced lunch application, if applicable to Coffin School. Parents will then be given the date and time for the pre-K screening. For more information visit the school website.

Ultimately, the district hopes to serve as many as 120 pre-K students in the four designated pre-K classrooms at the new 70,900-square-foot Kate Furbish school, which is expected to open in the fall of 2020. That pre-K program will come with an estimated $584,000 price tag.

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