Gov. John Kitzhaber lauded the Pendleton School District Tuesday for its efforts to correct the “lost stepchild” of education — the disconnect between kindergarten and preschool programs.
A main part of his goal for Oregon to have a 100 percent high school graduation rate by 2025 is making sure children are prepared for kindergarten — such as counting and recognizing letters. Many preschool programs are not part of public school systems and some children don’t go to preschool.
Kitzhaber saw Pendleton’s efforts to bridge this gap at Hawthorne School, where its Head Start, a low-income preschool program, and its special education preschool class are located.
The governor saw how classes worked up close by visiting with students and teachers, and even doing the “chicken dance” with Head Start students.
The district has big plans for Hawthorne. If voters pass a $55 million bond in November, it plans to transform the building into an early childhood center that would better connect the district with Pendleton preschool programs.
After $9 million in renovations and additions, the building would house Head Start, the special education preschool class, a new preschool program for four-year-old low-income students and all kindergarten classes, said superintendent Jon Peterson.
“Ideally it would be a resource center so that any agency private or public that serves children — especially pre-k children — would have the opportunity to have some sort of presence there,” Peterson said.
Parents could use the center to find the best preschools or health programs for their children, whether located at the center or somewhere else in the community. This would increase the communication between the school district and private preschool programs.
The district plans to reach other parents by sending text messages and emails with educational activities to teach their children, using the the Pendleton Public Library’s “Project Ready to Learn” mailing list.
“Ready to Learn” was designed to encourage parents to plan for college and teach their children to read before starting kindergarten. The program will open college savings accounts that accrue 2 cents every time a student checks out a book or participates in an approved educational activity.
As part of a $400 million increase in education funding the Legislature has slated for the next biennium, it has planned an 18 percent increase for funding to early childhood programs like Head Start, said Ben Cannon, Kitzhaber’s education policy advisor.
But Kitzhaber cautioned that school districts need to use existing resources in their communities to make the extra funding count.
“The school debate is dominated by funding,” he said. “You can still increase funding and not increase outcomes.”
At a visit to InterMountain Education Service District offices in Pendleton, Kitzhaber learned about Eastern Promise, which works with area schools to educate fifth grade students about college options, and help high school students earn college credits.
Kitzhaber also said he plans to approve a bill the House passed Monday to allow schools to opt out of ESDs. It was designed to save larger school districts money because many already have services provided by their ESDs.
Peterson said the ESD helps small districts like his because it is otherwise too expensive to hire specialized professionals like speech therapists and school psychologists.
Contact Chris Rizer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.