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Kansans Can Star Recognition Program: Perry-Lecompton's focus on kindergarten readiness helps young students ease into transition

Five years ago, Perry-Lecompton Unified School District 343 was looking at ways to address a declining enrollment and effectively utilize open classroom space created by that declining enrollment, said J.B. Elliott, superintendent.

While doing research, the district discovered a key component to growing a larger community is access to affordable child care. At the time, the school district and community only had two Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) licensed home-based child care programs – and both were full, Elliott said.

“Although there were many challenges to establish a district-operated KDHE licensed child care center, we felt this was a need and something that would benefit our community and provide a positive impact for students entering kindergarten,” he said. “The child care program has been well received by a community that was very underserved with child care options.”

Today, the district has 785 students, which includes a year-round child care program that serves children from 18 months of age. While district enrollment hasn’t increased substantially, there has been a steady increase. The district has about 20 more students now than it did five years ago.

Students can enter the district’s early childhood program at 18 months and continue in the building until the completion of their kindergarten year. This allows children and their families to develop a familiarity with the school and begin the process of forging strong bonds with school staff members and other families.

The district’s concentration on kindergarten readiness, one of the outcomes established by the Kansas State Board of Education to help Kansas reach its vision of leading the world in the success of each student, has led it to receive honors in the Kansas State Department of Education’s 2020 Kansans Can Star Recognition Program. Perry-Lecompton received a bronze award in the kindergarten readiness award area.

The district is comprised of four schools:

  • Perry Elementary School: 18 months through kindergarten.
  • Lecompton Elementary School: First- through fourth-grade students.
  • Perry-Lecompton Middle School: Fifth- through eighth-grade students.
  • Perry-Lecompton High School: Ninth- through 12th-grade students.

The district’s Early Childhood Center has the capacity to serve 60 children ages 18 months to school age.

“Our child care programs provide weekly lesson plans geared to support early childhood learning,” Elliott said. “Our pre-K and child care programs collaborate to provide consistency in academic and social-emotional development. This partnership has enhanced the building’s focus on kindergarten readiness. Engaging with families and their young children has increased the focus on learning and eased the transition for children entering kindergarten.”

While the district always has focused on preparing young children for kindergarten, with the creation of the Kansas Education Systems Accreditation, Perry-Lecompton conducted a thorough evaluation of its practices and made some adjustments.

“We have seen significant gains,” Elliott said. “The addition of the 3-year-old pre-K program and the district child care center have provided an additional foundation to prepare our children for kindergarten.”

Perry-Lecompton believes that strong support of an early childhood program strengthens all of the schools within the district, he said.

The district uses data from screeners, such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaires, to guide instruction of its students. In addition to delivering curriculum through its pre-K and kindergarten programs, the district partners with area child care providers, educators and professionals.

“These partnerships support the idea that it is critical for our students to come prepared for kindergarten in all domains,” Elliott said. “Prepared to learn. Prepared to share. Prepared to socialize. Prepared to collaborate. Prepared to work through frustrations and challenges.”

For the fall of 2021, 23 of the estimated 42 kindergarten students were served by the district’s preschool program. These children are comfortable and relaxed in the school setting as they move into their kindergarten year, Elliott said.

“The foundation for kindergarten readiness has been built through participation in our early childhood programs,” he said.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the initial participation rate in the Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ-3 and ASQ: SE-2) was 25%, said Mark Lamb, principal of Perry and Lecompton elementary schools. Staff members then asked parents to complete paper copies, and the rate rose to 60%. Forty-two percent of students were meeting age-appropriate developmental milestones.

In the 2020-2021 school year, the participation rate for those same questionnaires grew to 95%. Sixty-six percent of students were meeting age-appropriate developmental milestones.

“This is largely due to our early childhood educators, our community connections and parent communication,” Lamb said.

While the saying goes, “You can never have too much of a good thing,” there are a few obstacles the district is facing as it continues to grow, such as space constraints, Elliott said.

“We have seen our programs consistently grow over the past three years,” he said. “Should our growth curve continue, we will need more classrooms for child care and pre-K. We now have two housing developments planned within our district, which will certainly add to the problem of finding space for a popular program.”

But the district is proud to partner with the surrounding community to continue to support great opportunities for families and economic growth for the area.

“Possibly the biggest factor in our success with kindergarten readiness is the working relationship between our parents and board of education with staff,” Elliott said. “They are very supportive of our staff. Building such relationships has been key in our goal of having all children prepared for kindergarten success.”

Posted: Jun 30, 2021,
Categories: KSDE,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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