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Gainesville schools may expand pre-K program
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The Gainesville City Board of Education moved Monday night toward possibly adding new pre-kindergarten classes.

The board voted 3-1 to pursue adding a Georgia Lottery-funded class and 3-1 to join other systems in seeking a four-year federal grant that could add another class. Board member Sammy Smith voted no on both actions.

“We’re not certain we will get the federal grant, but we do know we already have permission ... to add the additional (lottery-funded class),” Superintendent Wanda Creel said.

She told the board the school system was contacted in the past few days by Bright from the Start, which operates the state’s pre-K program, to see if the district wanted to participate in the federal grant application.

In addition to Gainesville, four other systems have been selected in Georgia, including Hall County.

“Currently, we have 22 children in our pre-K classes,” Creel said. “The funding would allow for us to reduce those (sizes) to 20 in each class.”

The grant also will provide additional classroom resources and professional learning for teachers, she said.

“I think one of the most exciting components that I heard from the program is that it will also provide for the most at-risk children six weeks prior to pre-K and six weeks in the summer, after pre-K and as they are transitioning into kindergarten,” Creel said.

The additional instruction would help students retain what they have learned, she added.

As far as costs to the system, Gainesville now spends about $80,000 toward its eight lottery-funded classes, so “you’re probably talking an additional $10,000 per class … to be able to fund this from a local level,” Creel said.

“At best, doing both programs would add another $20,000 to our general

budget (expenses).”

Bright from the Start has told the system that Gainesville has about 40 children not being served by a pre-K program — a number Smith questioned.

“Why aren’t they being served if they have public and private options?” he said.

Creel said the number was provided to the system “and I’m sure that … different agencies working with these families have data.”

“They may not be being served by choice,” Smith said. “Maybe mom and dad (do) not want to send or (do) not choose to send (them).”

Creel said if the system doesn’t have the number of students to fill a class, “that would be our message back to the community. We do not have enough students in order to make this class, so therefore, we not be providing this.

“It’s not that we would have a class and we would be obligated to keep the class if it didn’t make.”

As far as timing on the new lottery-funded class, the state is willing “to go ahead and provide for us now, and they would get elements in place that we would go through our process of publicizing that we are adding a pre-K class,” Creel said.

“As soon as we get that turned around, we would start that class.”

Per the federal grant, “I don’t know what the turnaround time is once that grant is approved,” Creel said. “They have not given that information to us yet.”

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