Pre-kindergarten could be offered as soon as the fall semester in Yarmouth in an effort to level the playing field for children in the local school system.

Residents will weigh in on whether to add optional pre-K at the school district’s budget meeting June 7.

The initiative is being prompted in part due to the results of recent screenings: Of 104 Yarmouth kids screened this fall for kindergarten readiness, 21 did not meet benchmarks for receptive and expressive language skills, conceptual knowledge and motor skills, according to a presentation by Yarmouth’s pre-K task force last month.

The benefits of pre-K include higher graduation rates, lower incarceration rates later in life and better educational and economic opportunities for families, said Leann Larson, Early Learning Team coordinator at the Maine Department of Education. Public pre-K also reduces the number of students requiring academic or social intervention by an average of 10% by the third grade, the department says.

“Quite often, you see a decrease in the number of students later on who are identified for special education because public pre-K is a terrific form of early intervention,” Larson said. “They’re getting the instruction and additional support they need early on.

“Public pre-K is also a real opportunity in communities to build stronger relationships between the children, families and school systems in a community in the years before the kids are coming into the schools.”


If approved in Yarmouth, the 2022-2023 budget for the program would be about $968,550, with the bulk of that coming from personnel costs, since teachers, educational technicians and specialists would need to be hired. Yarmouth has already been approved for a $181,300 state grant to support start-up costs and, according to Superintendent Andrew Dolloff, the district’s most recent information about state aid to education indicated that the majority of the total cost would likely be covered.

Offering pre-kindergarten classes has been a topic of discussion in Yarmouth since 2018, when it was identified in the district’s strategic plan as something to into.

Rowe Elementary School Principal Susan Lobel says the timing is now ideal to revisit that conversation for two reasons. The state began a grant program this year for starting or expanding pre-K programs, and Rowe’s expansion in 2020 provided it with more classroom space, she said.

The program would accept up to 96 students who turn age 4 by Oct. 15 for classes at Rowe, which now is a K-1 school. Students now attending come from about 25 different pre-K programs or did not attend pre-kindergarten. If pre-K is approved, Yarmouth plans to coordinate with  providers.

“We talked about anything from professional development to sharing resources and information,” said Shanna Crofton, the district’s director of teaching and learning. “The other big piece we’re working on is transportation. We’re hoping to run an a.m./p.m., half-day program, making sure that if a student wanted to do a full-day program, we’re getting them to and from and working with that family’s schedule. That’s been a big piece of recent communication.”

In a survey of 150 Yarmouth families with children in kindergarten through grade 4, 137 said they would send their kids to pre-K, seven said maybe and six said they would not. Crofton said most of the concern was about changes to the school budget or if it would impact private providers. A survey to gauge community interest can be found on the district’s website.


“This is why it’s important for us that we work with private providers. One thing we keep emphasizing is, this is an option for families, not a requirement,” Crofton said. “We’d be receiving funding from the state to be able to support the program development, so there’s not a significant increase to the budget.”

Yarmouth parent Trisha Merrill has a 3-year old son who is enrolled at North Yarmouth Academy, which is a private school. If pre-K is approved for Yarmouth, she said she will definitely enroll him. Her 5-year old daughter attended private pre-K and it allowed her “to build the social skills necessary to thrive in a classroom community,” Merrill said.

“Before having children I was an elementary school teacher in Boston for 10 years. I was able to see first-hand the academic and social gains children can make by attending pre-K,” Merrill said. “Kindergarten has become increasingly academic and can be very overwhelming for kids when it’s their first time attending school.”

Enrollment in pre-K across the state was steadily increasing before the pandemic but began declining in 2020, Larson said. In the 2018-2019 school year, 6,101 students statewide were enrolled in pre-K which increased slightly to 6,203 the following year. The 2020-2021 school year dipped, with only 4,746 students enrolled. That increased to 5,548 for the 2021-2022 school year. About 80% of all public school systems in Maine offer a pre-kindergarten program, Larson.

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