Superintendent proposes closer relationship
LAFAYETTE — This fall will mark the first time the school system gathers a key piece of information that will help it ensure that more of its students are ready for kindergarten — the name of where they received child care.
Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper said knowing what child-care centers the students went to before enrolling in the school system will be valuable in pinpointing which centers may need assistance in preparing children for school.
He said school officials will analyze data compiled during student assessments, present it to child-care centers and offer outreach teachers to work with the centers. The school system will also provide resources and curriculum to target areas of low performance, he said.
Only 52 percent of the state’s kindergarten students enter school ready to learn, according to state Superintendent John White. He cited the statistic at a summit on early childhood education sponsored by the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning in Lafayette.
In Lafayette Parish, only half are ready for kindergarten based on assessments of language, math and printing skills, according to the most recent data available from the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning from the 2009-10 school year.
White stressed in an interview after the childhood summit meeting the need for a “unity of approach” among school systems and their communities’ early child-care providers.
Different early learning programs, even publicly funded ones such as the federally supported Head Start program and the state’s public LA 4 program, have varied regulations, funding sources and standards and that can make collaboration challenging, said Sheryl Piper, director of early childhood programs in Calcasieu Parish.
Calcasieu Parish began actively collaborating with child-care providers eight years ago when it became the grantee of the parish’s Head Start programs. The parish decided to take on the federal early learning program to help improve the school readiness of the 3-year-olds in the community, Piper said.
“It pushed us outside into the child-care center community,” she said. “We invite them to our professional development (classes) and we’re able to share resources with them and give them materials.”
In Lafayette Parish, the district’s turnaround plan calls for greater collaboration among the school system, child-care providers and related nonprofit and social service agencies.
The plan, approved by the School Board last month, calls for an early childhood care coalition. Planning for the coalition will begin sometime in June after the district’s early childhood director position is filled, Cooper said.
This school year, 455 Lafayette Parish kindergarten students didn’t receive early learning services through a child-care center or public preschool program before starting school. As part of the district’s turnaround plan, that number should dwindle to zero, Cooper said.
Cooper said the district’s early childhood department will work to identify students who are not in child care and help find spots at centers in the community.
“Our preference is to find existing spots for them. If we can’t place them, we need to have services for them,” he said.
Early childhood programming recommendations in the turnaround plan also include expanding preschool classes and beginning a developmental kindergarten class to help students who are starting school not as prepared as their peers.
The cost of early childhood initiatives proposed for the upcoming school year are estimated at about $2.7 million.