The Portland Public Schools central office, 353 Cumberland Ave. File

PORTLAND — While school is out for the summer, School Department officials are working to implement a plan to add two pre-kindergarten classrooms for fall.

The effort is part of the department’s five-year plan to expand its pre-K offerings to at least 140 seats and move toward a universal school readiness program.

The pre-K expansion is a key part of the nearly $117.4 million fiscal year budget, in effect this week after being approved by voters June 11.

Among the new positions approved in the spending package is a pre-K director, along with two pre-K classroom teachers and two educational technicians.

Melea Nalli, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, told the School Board at a recent meeting that she’s in the process of hiring to fill all five posts.

She said she’s hopeful the School Department will be able to announce the new pre-K director soon. The original goal, Nalli said, was for that person to start July 1.

She said the pre-K director’s position includes about “five different jobs,” including strategy, coaching, supervision of staff, and curriculum planning.

Nalli said getting the two new pre-K classrooms up and running will be her focus over the summer, because there are “a lot of moving parts.”

She said she’s been learning a lot about properly furnishing pre-K-specific learning spaces, as well as working with others on creating an appropriate curriculum.

She said a lot of scheduling adjustments will also be required, especially when the School Department rolls out its before- and after-school care options next January.

The extended day will also mean adjustments for staff, who will have to work out new snack, lunch and recess schedules, while coordinating drop-off and pick-up times for students. In addition, Nalli said, the district will have to develop a sliding fee scale for extended services, to accommodate low-income families.

Rowe Elementary School and the East End Community School will each house one of the new pre-K classrooms, Nalli told the School Board June 18.

The families of all the students chosen to take part have been notified and will be receiving more information, along with a Greater Portland METRO bus pass, she said.

For now, the school district has worked out an agreement with METRO to provide transportation for all new pre-K students.

Things will get more complicated in the fall of 2020, she said, when the School Department hopes to begin opening new pre-K classrooms with some of its community partners.

It’s hoped to put those outside teachers under contract with the Portland Public Schools, giving them the same pay scale, retirement protections and health-care options.

Even in using community partners, such as the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery, the district will retain responsibility for providing English language learner support, Nalli said.

For this coming fall she said the district would be hiring three, part-time ELL teachers, who would float between all the elementary schools that house pre-K classrooms.

Even with the two new pre-K classrooms being offered, Nalli said there are more than 50 students on a waiting list.

Some of those families may agree to send their kids to schools outside of their immediate neighborhood, which would ensure the students could begin pre-K in the fall.

I think we’ll have an incredible year once we get all the pieces up and running,” Nalli told the School Board.


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