At the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board meeting last week, Superintendent Scott Hannon and the director of Winona State University’s (WSU) Children’s Center, June Reineke, gave a joint presentation on the progress of the Washington-Kosciusko (W-K) preschool expansion project. The proposed plan involves implementing a full-day, full-service toddler and preschool program at W-K, similar to the present program operated by WSU at Madison Elementary. As Hannon and Reineke discussed, the plan also includes an agreement with WSU to pay to modify district buildings for the program WAPS will waive rent for the first few years of the program as a payback mechanism. “Winona State has no problem paying for the renovation costs to get this progress up and running,” Hannon said.
The current estimated first-year cost of the project is between $100,000 - $125,000, which includes other renovation costs that are also to be paid by WSU. The renovation costs are associated with minor remodeling and window repairs at Jefferson Elementary to accommodate a special needs class that will be moved from W-K to Jefferson to make room for the preschool program.
“The process is kind of like a domino effect,” Hannon explained. “In the process of bumping, one staff member will leave W-K and will take the program back to Jefferson, which was in Jefferson a few years ago.”
Who will the program serve?
In addition to the work that needs to be put into Jefferson Elementary, Reineke and the staff at WSU are working to decide which Winona-area families the W-K preschool should serve. Reineke, Hannon, and School Board members were all in agreement that “at-risk” students, meaning students who would otherwise not have access to a preschool due to a lack of funds or transportation services, should make up a good percentage of the program’s admitted children.
“We all believe that the greatest value of preschool is for kids with the highest risk factors, and an inclusive classroom is very important for that,” Reineke said, explaining that a mix of both at-risk and non-at-risk students can be beneficial for academic achievement. “Right now the district and the people at Head Start are working on a process to identify at-risk children.”
“An inclusive classroom is important, and I’m guessing there might be a tipping point if there are too many at-risk students,” board member Brian Zeller said, referring to classroom dynamics of students from similar backgrounds.
“There are a lot of factors,” Reineke said, referring to the elevated levels of demand that can be placed on teachers with classrooms of at-risk students.
Reineke explained that program grants will defray costs for students from low income families. A mix of students, including those from families who can afford to pay some or all of the program’s tuition, will help keep the program financially stable. An estimated cost of providers is currently at $168 per week for an infant enrolled full-time and $157 per week for a preschooler enrolled full-time.
The next step for the W-K preschool expansion project is to identify enrollment logistics and ultimately figure out the ratio of at-risk to other students to ensure the best possible learning environment. The board is expected to be presented with an update on plans during its next meeting.