Juneau is one of six Alaska school districts awarded state grants to pilot preschool programs for the upcoming school year, state Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux announced Wednesday.
The grants, ranging from $150,000 to $380,000 each, will allow the recipients to serve approximately 330 children in half-day programs during the school year. The $201,073 grant to the Juneau School District will cover two classrooms serving 40 children.
"We are thrilled," said Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling. "This is really in the name of drop-out prevention and improving graduation rates. ... That early childhood focus is so important."
The pilot program was proposed by the Palin administration and funded at $2 million by the Legislature this past session.
"The pilot's purpose is not to establish whether preschool is beneficial for children. We already know it does help prepare children to start kindergarten ready to learn," LeDoux said in a press release. "Rather, the pilot will allow school districts to create preschool programs that incorporate Alaska's early learning guidelines in ways that are tailored to their communities."
The Juneau School District will partner with Head Start, a private nonprofit preschool program that already exists in Juneau. The district used federal stimulus funds as leverage in its state grant application, and the result will be two new preschool teachers and a new classroom at Glacier Valley Elementary, Scandling said.
The second teacher will partner with the lead teacher at Gastineau Elementary, which already has a Head Start program.
The additions will bring the number of Head Start sites in Juneau to six.
Improving families' access to early care and education programs is one of the actions recommended in the Alaska Education Plan, created by educators and members of the public at a summit in November 2008.
Aside from operating in-school programs, the grant recipients are expected to provide guidance to families that choose to care for their young children at home. The grant also requires the school districts to use specific assessment tools to evaluate the children.
Other school districts receiving grants:
Anchorage, two classrooms serving 32 children $167,684.
Bering Strait, four classrooms serving 62 children, $362,828.
Nome, two classrooms serving 50 children, $219,539.
Lower Kuskokwim, two classrooms serving 40 students, $337,732.
Yukon Koyukuk, seven classrooms serving 39 students, $325,445.
The state department will use the remaining $385,699 of the legislative appropriation to support early learning in chronically under-performing school districts, affecting up to seven more communities and 100 additional children.
Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or by e-mail at kim.marquis@juneauempirecom.