Expansion to District 518's 4-year-old preschool program on track
The school will need to hire four licensed teachers as well as four paraprofessionals, which may be challenging given the widespread shortage in education staff.
WORTHINGTON — District 518 remains on track to begin a 4-year-old preschool program in the 2023-24 school year, starting with a pilot program for 108 students in six classrooms — provided enough teachers can be found.
“This year we served 60 4-year-olds. So there’s an increase in slots, but it’s not going to be a universal preschool yet,” said Sharon Johnson, director of Community Education, during a meeting of the Instructional Committee of the District 518 Board of Education Monday.
In order to serve the additional students, District 518 will need to hire four licensed teachers as well as four paraprofessionals, which may be challenging given the widespread shortage in education staff.
The program expansion will also require an additional $400,000 to $500,000 in funding, a matter which will likely go before the school board at its next meeting, which begins at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday in the band room at Worthington High School.
At this point, the school is planning to offer the program free to parents from the start time until 4 p.m.
However, officials are also discussing the idea of allowing students to stay longer if needed, in order to better accommodate parents’ work schedules, and that may be a service parents would pay for, said Josh Noble, District 518's director of instruction.
While a school day ending at 4 p.m. seems long for a 4-year-old, the district is somewhat constrained by its K-12 busing needs, which means the new pilot program either needs to be done early, at 2 p.m., or extended to 4 p.m.
Students currently in the District 518 program will be placed in the expansion first, Johnson said. If there are more students than slots for them, the open spaces will be filled on a lottery basis, likely by April 1.
A truly universal preschool program for 4-year-olds would likely need to be divided between Prairie Elementary and Community Education, she added, as there are not enough rooms at either site on its own.
Finding staff remains a concern.
“We are going to be looking to find four teachers, but I cannot guarantee that we are going to find four teachers all in one year,” Johnson cautioned the committee, adding that the pilot will go forward with fewer students if fewer licensed teachers can be found.
Two other variables that could potentially come into play: the existing program already must reapply annually for its funding, and Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget does include a universal pre-K experience.
In other news Monday, the committee:
- Learned that District 518 is on track to start its online program again at the beginning of the next school year, likely with an enrollment cap of 800 to 850 students.
- Received an update on the Trojan Legacy Wall, which will honor donors to extracurricular programs with bricks near the entry to Trojan Field.