Schools kick off pre-K changes

The East Baton Rouge school system is scrapping the lottery system it had been using to register children for pre-K classes in favor of a new screening process designed to give children who may not be adequately prepared for kindergarten a better shot at getting into the program for the 2013-2014 school year, school officials said.

Students will be assessed on their readiness for kindergarten and those who perform at the low end will get higher priority for one of the more than 2,000 pre-K seats in the system than children who perform well, Bobbie Robertson, director of pre-K for the system, said Friday.

Parents interested in learning about the new system are invited to attend two “Pre-K Palooza” meetings hosted by the school system. The meetings will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Cortana Mall and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Woodlawn Middle School, 14939 Tiger Bend Road.

Robertson described how the program will work.

For example, she said, if there are 26 slots open for a school, the 26 students who perform at the lowest end of the spectrum on the assessment test will get first shot at that school if the parents identified that school as their first choice on their application.

If a child does not get into the school their parents marked as their first choice, then the parents will be offered another school in their attendance zone that has an opening, Robertson said.

Attendance zones are areas where any child living in that region could seek to attend any school offering their grade.

Robertson said the need to change the system for pre-K registration stemmed from data she received from parish kindergarten teachers in annual surveys. She said the results for the past several years have shown that about 33 percent of students who began kindergarten each year have not received any form of early childhood education.

Robertson said she used the data from that survey to show Superintendant Bernard Taylor that students were not prepared for kindergarten and they needed to do something to improve the numbers.

“Once you start off and you’re behind, it really messes with your self-confidence,” Robertson said.

Taylor said studies show children who receive some form of early childhood education perform better in school.

“What we’re trying to do is gather data through the screening,” Taylor said. “It’s hard for me to understand why priority would not be given to children who are not kindergarten ready.”

He said in every other school district he has worked in, priority for pre-K was given to children who, without it, might not have been ready for kindergarten.

Robertson said the school system will use an early childhood screening test that is widely used across the county to assess children for enrollment in Pre-K programs.

Robertson said she has not heard any negative comments from families since the changes were announced. Taylor said he spoke to two School Board members who expressed concern over the changes but said he assuaged their worries once he explained his reasoning behind the change.

Jill Dyason, School Board member for District 10, said she has heard rumblings that some parents are unhappy about the change in the process, but nothing specific. She said the change to pre-K registration was done administratively and was not voted on by the board.

She said it is something she thinks should be looked at more closely before it is implemented.

“I think it would be a healthy conversation to have,” she said.

The first application roundup is scheduled for Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. Parents can pick up applications at both Pre-K Palooza events, on the school system’s website and at schools on Jan. 28. For students who do not get into a school the first time, there will be a second roundup from Feb. 18-22.

For the second roundup, parents can go to schools outside their attendance zones that have openings and express interest in their child attending that school, Robertson said. She said they will not have to apply again if they applied the first time.

Kindergarten registration for the 2013-14 school year will also begin Jan. 28. Children must be 5 years old by Sept. 30 to be eligible and registration packets will be available at local elementary schools.

In December 2011, the School Board announced the end of the first-come, first-served pre-K registration in favor of the lottery system. The change was in response to parents camping out overnight for spots at schools that offered popular pre-K programs.

In January 2011, a dispute at Shenandoah Elementary prompted the Sheriff’s Office to intervene and order everyone to go home for the night.