Pre-K expansion on horizon for Coxsackie-Athens

The Edward J. Arthur Elementary School in Athens.

COXSACKIE — The Coxsackie-Athens School District was prepared to offer a pre-kindergarten program for the first time in the new year and now the initiative will be greatly expanded thanks to a $360,000 state grant the district received during the holiday season.

A total of 31 school districts across the state will receive $13.4 million in funding as part of the New York State Education Department initiative, but Coxsackie-Athens is the only district in Greene County to receive the pre-K grant in this round of state funding.

The district will open up two pre-K sections in the new year that will accommodate 36 students, with six openings currently available for four-year-old students.

“We’ve never had pre-K in the district and I think we’re the only district in Greene County without it,” Coxsackie-Athens Superintendent Randall Squier said. “They had never applied for pre-K previously to me and this is my 11th year. So when we were eligible to apply this year, we received a base grant from the state in the current year’s budget. Then the competitive grant opened up as well, which we applied for over the summer, and we officially received word right before the holidays that we were also given the competitive grant for $360,000. So combined, that will allow us to fund most of the pre-K program with the grants.”

The state grant is a rolling program, so the school district will receive the pre-K funding next year as well and into the future.

“It’s an annual grant that we’ll receive as long as we have a need for it,” Squier said.

The pre-K program will be housed in the Edward J. Arthur Elementary School in Athens and Squire noted that students from Coxsackie will be bused to the school for the full-day program.

The district joined forces with the Circle of Friends preschool in Ravena to apply for the state grant.

The district’s grant proposal was written by Coxsackie-Athens Middle School principal Freya Mercer and Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Kerry Houlihan.

After the district received an initial $120,000 in funding from the state for pre-K earlier this year, they offered up the first section of the program to begin in January, but the second grant that the district was awarded on Dec. 15 will greatly bolster the scope of the program.

“It allows us to more than double the program, basically,” Board of Education President Michael Donahue said. “We had already been setting up a pre-K program that was going to start next semester, at the end of January. We had 18 slots available and when we asked the community for people who would be interested in sending their 4-year-olds, we had interest from 23 parents. So we basically had to pull names out of a hat to pick the first 18 that would be able to go.”

The pre-K initiative is part of the district’s 2030 Destination Plan that outlines the district’s vision for the next decade.

“It’s something that we’ve been wanting to do and our teachers have certainly been asking for this,” Squire said. “Without the state putting in the majority of the funds for it, it was just difficult for us to get it off the ground not knowing if we could sustain it.”

Squire said two new teachers and two teaching assistants will be hired as part of the pre-K program.

District parents with four-year-old children have time to apply for the program before it begins.

“We’re accepting applications currently,” Squire said. “So we’re certainly encouraging anyone with a child who turned 4 prior to this past December 1 to register. So we’ll fill those classes up and then in the fall we’ll look to see, based on enrollment needs, if we need a third section as well.”

According to the state, the final approval of the grants is subject to the review and approval of the Office of the State Comptroller.

“When we strengthen supports and provide equitable opportunities for children in their early years, we see the benefits throughout their school years and beyond,” state Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said in a statement. “The Department is committed to expanding universal full-day prekindergarten programs that provide a strong educational foundation for our children, resulting in positive long-term outcomes.”

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