August 5, 2008

Clifton to Start Preschool Program in 2009-10


CLIFTON Following a mandate from the stateEducation Department, the district will offer a full-day preschool beginning in the 2009- 10 school year.

The preschool is part of a statewide effort to increase early education programs for students eligible for free or reduced lunch over the next six years.

The mandate went into effect in January, when Governor Corzine approved the School Funding Reform Act, which expanded preschool programs for "at risk" 3- and 4-year-olds. If the district doesn't start the preschool, it could risk losing state grant money.

"I think it'll be a very beneficial program," said Maria Nuccetelli, Clifton's interim assistant schools superintendent, on Friday. "It gives additional opportunities for students to attend a quality preschool program who may not have had access to it."

The district currently does not offer preschool.

The state Department of Education will pay for the preschool costs, which are estimated to be between $7,146 and $12,934 per student, depending on whether the preschool is run by the district, private providers or the early education program Head Start, according to Nuccetelli. District officials have not yet determined where the preschool will be located.

District officials will use the coming school year to train staff and plan for the new preschool, Nuccetelli said.

The district has to submit a plan to the state by the end of this year that explains how it will implement the preschool over the next five years. District officials will have to decide whether to operate the school in district, using private providers or through Head Start an early childhood education program for low-income children.

A certified teacher will instruct preschool classes, and use state-approved curriculum.

The district will gradually have to increase its enrollment over the next six years until it is able to offer preschool to 90 percent of eligible students or about 386 pupils. School board President Michael Urciuoli said that in the first year the district will enroll 20 percent of eligible students, or about 100 3- and 4-year- olds, to meet state requirements. At the end of the preschool's first year, district officials will decide how to house the growing enrollment.

Ellen Wolock, director of the Office of Preschool Education for the state Department of Education, said the state wanted to expand preschool programs for "at risk" students because children who attend preschool are more likely to perform better academically than children who do not.

"We have found that children who participate in the program, they do much better on math and language measures than children who don't go to the program," she said Friday.

Lizz Gagnon, a Clifton board commissioner, agreed.

"They're like little sponges [at that age]," Gagnon said. "The more they can absorb, the better they are. It helps with districtwide test scores later on."


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