The question rages on: does Winona need more preschool options? If so, should they be geared toward a specific group of children?
June Reineke, director of the Winona State University (WSU) Children’s Center, attended a recent Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board meeting to present two of four District 861 preschool expansion options. These two options would create a partnership between WSU and WAPS similar to the one created for the current program at Madison Elementary.
Reineke noted that although the budget for the collaborative options may be more than for the district-only options, the cost would be split and much of the plan could be supplemented through grants. When the program at Madison was created, WSU, WAPS and the city of Winona received help funding the project from private donations, fundraisers, and grants.
The first WSU-WAPS partnership option would include a targeted preschool, focusing on at-risk four-year-olds. The program would run five days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The program would be licensed to serve 18 students annually. This option would have an estimated cost of $99,000.
The second partnership option would closely resemble the program currently implemented at Madison Elementary. It would run as a full-day, full-service toddler preschool program for children ages 22-60 months. The program would be licensed to serve 34-40 students annually. The full-service program would have an estimated cost of $181,000.
The district-sponsored options would range in cost from $68,321.62 to $96,803.00.
The main concern addressed by school board members was the group of children that a new program would serve. Reineke noted that the district could decide whether they wanted a targeted preschool for at-risk children, an inclusive program open to all children, or a combination of the two.
Board Member Steve Schild stated that the preschool expansion should focus on at-risk children from families with limited funds. According to Birth to Grade Three Committee members, scholarships and a sliding fee scale are two ways of helping children whose parents may be struggling to afford preschool. “It’s really about the families that can’t afford it,” said Jay Kohner, school board member.
Board Members Margaret Schild and Marianne Texley, who serve on the Birth to Grade Three Committee, explained that there are preschool openings available at different facilities in town for interested parents. Expanding the preschool program for a targeted group would help families unable to afford to send their children to preschool.
Board Member Jeanne Nelson commented that at-risk children might not be a broad enough term. Nelson said she worried about the plight of an average child, noting that children on either end of the spectrum receive the most attention. Average children tend to get overlooked, Nelson noted. “How do you define at-risk?” Nelson asked. “There are many different directions for that definition.”
Reineke explained that families in the middle income bracket can be under some of the same strains as low income families. “The notion of risk can and should be looked at from a lot of different angles,” Reineke said.
The school board has yet to formally consider preschool expansion, but several members are interested in exploring another collaboration with WSU. “A sharing of resources would be great,” said Mohamed Elhindi, School Board chairperson.