Hall County Schools Board meeting
When: 5 tonight
Where: Hall County Schools Board office, 711 Green Street NW, Gainesville
Officials at Riverbend Elementary School want to extend their Advanced Scholars Academy to pre-kindergarten students.
Unlike the other pre-K classes in Hall County however, this one will be tuition-based.
"We're giving a head start to kids who are already ahead," Principal Debra Smith said. "We're excited about it. I talked to (Superintendent Will Schofield) and asked if we could get any Georgia money, but when you select the kids, you have to pay for it yourself. If Georgia pays any money into it, it has to be a lottery."
The same goes for making Advanced Scholars pre-K part of a charter school program, but Riverbend wants to pick the top students from its pool of applicants. The tuition will pay for teachers' salaries and make the program entirely self-sufficient.
"This is for kids that need a little bit more rigorous curriculum," Smith said. "We're wanting something new and innovative."
The school began its Advanced Scholars Academy this school year to target students who are already self-motivated and passionate about learning. They learn higher-level thinking skills, as the program's goal is to have students gather knowledge and be able to articulate to others.
The teaching methods for Advanced Scholars include community service and project-based learning. Students move on at their own pace once they've mastered a skill or standard.
Smith said her staff noticed this year that some in the kindergarten classes weren't ready for Advanced Scholars yet, so they hope having a pre-K program will help roll some students into the higher-level kindergarten.
Students in Advanced Scholars pre-K will have full access to all of Riverbend's resources, including its technology. As with other grades in the program, they will begin using Rosetta Stone to learn another language. They will have "unusual field trip" opportunities as well, Smith said.
Advanced Scholars pre-K will address the needs of students who have been exposed to things already, such as history museums and other field trips, or those who come from a preschool with an accelerated curriculum, Smith said.
Chosen pre-K students will need to have basic skills already, such as knowing letters and numbers.
"They have to be independent learners and they'll have to have basic kindergarten-type skills such as dressing themselves and going to the bathroom by themselves," she said. "It'll be more like a kindergarten than a pre-K."
Any 4-year-old in the Hall County school system can apply, even if he or she is not in the Riverbend district. As with other Advanced Scholars students, parents will have to provide their own transportation. The program will start out with 18 students, one teacher and one paraprofessional.
Smith is meeting with Schofield this week to discuss where to set the tuition. They'll be reviewing fees at private preschools and pre-K programs as well as the expected salary for the teacher and paraprofessional they want to hire.
"I've said for 20 years that the more we can do in the 0 to 5 age range is the best money we can spend," Schofield said. "We don't want to become the nanny state, but we want to provide as much opportunity for families to enroll their kids in a pre-K class. I always get excited when we can offer another high quality opportunity for little children."
Smith said the curriculum for students in Georgia pre-K is pretty set.
"Georgia pre-K I think just moves them to a certain level and not much more," Smith said. "We'll be customizing it for kids. We'll have to do pretesting to see where they are and move them as far as they can."